Meet our Grower, Stephen Buckle.
We know how our varieties perform in trial but what’s even more important is how they perform on farm, and that’s where our Growers Club comes in.
We would like to introduce one of our Growers Club members, Stephen Buckle, who is sharing his insights and experience with some of our varieties.
SM & DA Buckle, Limebar Farm, Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire
Area farmed: 115 hectares
Soil types: Sandy loam
Key crops: Winter wheat, winter barley, spring wheat
Typical cultivations: Plough, power harrow/drill.
RAGT varieties: RGT Skyfall, RGT Saki, RGT Gravity – all in trials
Main markets: Milling (wheat), seed (winter barley)
Choosing suitable wheat varieties is always time well spent, but for continuous wheat grower Stephen Buckle, it’s become a labour of love.
“There’s no substitute for trying new varieties for yourself, as no two farms are the same,” he says. “But it is particularly beneficial here – no-one does trials on continuous wheat in my area or anywhere else, as far as I am aware.”
Over the past three years, in association with GrainCo, Stephen has been trialling over 15 varieties on large-scale field trials at Limebar Farm.
The trials are primarily used to demonstrate up-and-coming varieties and compare them with established ones, attracting 40-50 farmers on an open day held in June.
Stephen also takes the plots to yield. “I grow the varieties on a very uniform field and treat each 0.5-acre plot the same, so it made sense to see how they perform, and how consistent they are.”
The findings are helping to underpin the farm’s five-year average winter wheat yield, which currently stands at 10t/ha. But it’s not all about tonnes, he notes.
“Disease resistance scores are definitely becoming more important. Septoria is a particular problem for us and the loss of fungicides and the development of resistant strains are a real concern."
“If we have another year like 2014 we won’t be able to control Septoria. We couldn’t keep it out then and we’ve lost chlorothalonil since.
“I treat all the trials with my standard four-spray fungicide programme, which gives me a good idea of each variety’s strength and weaknesses.
“I no longer grow any variety commercially that scores less than a 6 for Septoria, so I am always keen to look at new, more resistant varieties coming through.”
RGT Saki is in trials this season. Stephen likes the look of this newly recommended Group 4 variety which features very high yields and outstanding disease resistance.
“It’s a very interesting combination and is the sort of variety that could work well on this farm,” says Stephen.
“Plant genetics are moving on, and I am keen to talk to and work with different breeders.
“RAGT is one of the biggest and I hear they have some interesting developments in the pipeline. I want to see these varieties in the trials so that I and other farmers here can see them first hand in this area, on this farm.”
With almost no blackgrass on the farm, Stephen aims to get wheat crops drilled by mid-October. He uses a proven plough and power-harrow/drill system on his sandy loams, but is keeping an open mind.
“Direct drilling is interesting but is still quite experimental. I’m watching what other people do – I’d rather wait for now, especially as there is so much political and economic uncertainty at the moment.”
Most of the 80ha of wheat is continuous winter wheat – he also aims for 26ha of winter barley for seed and about 8ha of spring wheat to comply with the three-crop rule.
“I switched to mostly continuous wheats around 2007 when set-aside finished and the York sugar beet factor closed. I had one field in continuous wheat since 2001 which had done well, so I decided to try rolling it out across the farm.
“It’s a simple all-cereals system, but apart from a bit of seasonal help I do everything myself, so it worked well.”
However, due to the awful autumn and winter he will be growing more spring wheat this year.
“The weather broke on 24th September and it has hardly stopped raining. We are luckier than most to be on a hill here, but we couldn’t get 65 acres of winter wheat drilled.
That can have a knock-on effect as it could affect the take-all cycle, but hopefully replacing the winter wheat with spring wheat will reduce this problem.”