Meet our new Growers Club member, Frank Stennett

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 recently caught up with new member Frank Stennett, who farms near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

  • Genevieve Farms, Park Farm, Fornham St Genevieve

  • Area farmed: 800 hectares

  • Soil types: Mostly light sand soil

  • Key crops: Sugar beet, wheat, barley, oilseed rape

  • Typical cultivations: Plough based, but switching to strip till

Twenty hectares of solar panels are the latest crop to be established at Genevieve Farms, the newest in a long line of diversifications to help offset the limitations of light land arable farming.

“Our land is marginal, mainly really light sandy soils, so the rent from the solar farm will provide a guaranteed income, which is much needed,” says partner Frank Stennett, who is responsible for around 560ha of cropping on the southern edge of the Brecklands near Bury St Edmunds and a further 240ha of sandy loams in Norfolk.

Other diversifications include Stennetts Transport, a business park, and rental from the provision of a site for a recently completed 13ha glasshouse, a world first in that it uses the latest technology developed by Low Carbon Farming to capture waste heat from nearby sewage works and using it to heat in the glasshouse.

“The glasshouse and the solar farm are the most visible signs of our business ethos,” says Frank. “But a lot of the things we are now doing or planning, such as using BYDV resistance and other variety traits, strip tillage, and adopting cover crops to capture nitrogen and improve soil structure, are all good for the environment.

“It’s where the government wants us to go, and it’s where we need to be going – in the long run it will be more economic and more profitable.”

Earlier drilling

Wheat is the main crop, accounting for about 500ha. The focus is now on earlier drilling. “I’m not talking really early, but we don’t have much blackgrass so we could make a good start at end of September when the weather is better,” says Frank.

To help speed up drilling when land conditions are good, Frank is also trying a new Claydon drill on his Suffolk land, with ploughing reserved for before and probably after the 100ha of sugar beet, depending on field conditions.

Frank is looking forward to growing BYDV-resistant varieties

He is keen to use BYDV resistance to take the pressure off these early-drilled wheats, “We have some fields that are very wet so we want to make the most of the opportunity to drill early, especially after rape, so the crop can establish quickly and grow away before the weather closes in. If we can’t get on with the sprayer when growing a BYDV-resistant variety we don’t have to worry too much – it will give us peace of mind and help save costs.

He did try to get hold of RGT Wolverine for early sowing but because of the poor harvest seed wasn’t available at the time. “It looked to be a good replacement for RGT Gravity, which we had been growing very successfully until last season, as we could sow it early and it has better disease resistance.”

Frank had to buy an alternative variety and has already had to spray it at least twice. He has now booked some RGT Wolverine for next autumn, and is already looking further ahead.

Game-changing varieties

“RAGT has some better BYDV-resistant varieties coming through – I gather some also have OWBM resistance, which would be very good news. If they have decent Septoria tritici scores as well, that could be a real game changer.”

Although his oilseed rape was hit hard two to three years ago by flea beetle, he is increasing the area down to the crop – he has 60ha this year – and is drilling later, which seems to have helped reduce pest pressure. The crop follows barley where possible as it tends to leave more moisture in the soil, critical for good early establishment on his light soils.

RGT Planet spring barley follows later-lifted sugar beet – about 40ha this year. Most is now drilled into good conditions. “It’s a very flexible variety,” says Frank. “We can sow it into April and still get a good return for lower inputs – it’s been a phenomenal variety for us. We grow it for feed, and wherever we put it does well, even when it is not sown into the best of seed-beds.”

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