Updated: May 27
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 Marcus Struthers, arable manager on a large in-hand and contract farming operation on the Rutland Leicestershire border.
Tyler Farms, Redhill Farm, Barrowden, Oakham, Rutland
Area farmed: 1,100 hectares
Soil types: Sandy silt loam to clay loam
Key crops: winter wheat, winter and spring beans, spring wheat, winter and spring oats, winter barley, sugar beet, grass
Typical cultivations: Some ploughing before beans and sugar beet, targeted cultivations, direct drilling
RAGT varieties: RGT Lantern
Other enterprises: 2200 ewe flock plus 200ha grass
A move to Tyler Farms 12 months ago has proved to be right up Marcus Struthers’ street, giving him the chance to develop more sustainable methods of production with the owners of the business.
Much of the land in the area has been cropped with two wheats and rape for many years. Yields have historically been very good, but flea beetle and grassweeds, particularly blackgrass, have become a problem in some areas, requiring a change in the cropping rotation.
Tyler Farms, owned by Charles and Richard Tyler who remain hands-on in the business, consists of 350ha of owned land and 750ha of contracted land. Performance cannot be sacrificed for the sake of change – landlords’ returns as well as those on the home farm have to be maintained and hopefully improved as new techniques bed in.
“We are now trying to regenerate the farms,” says Marcus, who as arable manager is responsible for day-to-day management. “We are slowly implementing a direct drilling and Controlled Traffic Farming regime, which is a passion of mine.
“It’s not click your fingers and change overnight – we are doing trials here and there so we don’t sacrifice yield, and every decision has to stack up financially as well as agronomically.
“The landowners we work for are open to the idea – they’ve worked with Charles and Richard for many years so are keen to follow what they’ve set out to achieve.”
The rotation has been widened considerably, using cover crops and spring cropping to augment what was a largely winter cropped rotation. Winter wheat remains the biggest crop at 3-400 ha depending on the season, with spring wheats accounting for around 200ha. Winter and spring beans (100-200ha) and sugar beet (about 60ha) are other key crops, with winter barley and winter or spring oats making up the balance.
Second wheats are grown, but will be replaced with a cover crop/spring wheat sequence if blackgrass is a problem. “We’re not 100% on top of the problem, but we have enough options to stay ahead,” says Marcus.
“We aim to establish a cover crop ahead of spring wheat and spring oats and before about half the beans. I’ll use a black oat and vetch mix with some extra spring oats ahead of spring wheat on lighter land which we graze off with sheep, and black oats, phacelia, linseed and vetch elsewhere.” The aim is to establish these as early as possible, following the combine with shallow disc cultivator with a seedbox.
Marcus’s farming career began on the family farm in Bedfordshire and he gained experience in no-till farming at LE Barnes in Bedfordshire and the Courteenhall Farms in Northamptonshire, where he became arable manager, before moving to Tyler Farms. Marcus studied for a diploma at Moulton College and also spent two years in New Zealand working with seed crops.
Cultivations are targeted to need. Land is generally ploughed ahead of beans and before and after sugar beet. Elsewhere soil is moved as necessary, particularly ahead of second wheat, but the farm is moving into direct drilling to help improve soils and reduce establishment costs.
“Anything drilled in spring is direct drilled, as is first wheat behind beans, and we’ve tried it on winter barley this season which look very well. We might look to direct drill a few more crops in the autumn, especially given where fuel/running costs are going.
“But the ground has to be set up right, so using a cover crop/spring crop sequence ahead of the autumn direct-drilled crop looks like a nice follow on.”
Marcus is also trialling 100ha of clover understorey, mainly on the home farm in the six-year sugar beet/five spring wheats rotation, drilled with the first cereal after beet.
Crops this season are generally looking good, says Marcus. “We did have bit of a problem in the dry autumn getting a good weed chit before drilling, and it’s been a slow spring. But things have picked up although if we don’t get a decent amount of moisture soon it might be a different story.”
Good disease resistance and standing power are key when choosing winter wheats. RGT Lantern is being grown as a second wheat on heavier land. “I grew the variety for seed at the previous farm and really liked it. I think it’s the number one wheat in this situation – it tillers well and has a prostrate growth habit which helps smother weeds.”
The ability to speak directly to people who know their varieties inside out is one reason Marcus has joined the RAGT Growers Club. “We don’t jump in and out of varieties, but we always keep half an eye out, and this seems to be a good way of opening up more information and fresh ideas from a new source.”