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 Will Baker, farm manager on a large farming estate in Nottinghamshire.
Thoresby Farming Partnership, Thoresby Estate, Newark, Nottinghamshire
Area farmed: 2,200 hectares
Soil types: Very light bunter sandstone through to heavy Keuper marl clay soils
Key crops: Combinable winter and spring crops, maize for AD, sugar beet, packing potatoes, onions and carrots. Land also let to a third party for outdoor pig production.
Sand land – crop dependent, but tailored so as not to over-work soils. Vegetable crops have to be destoned.
Heavy land – minimal cultivations based around Vaderstad TopDown and Vaderstad Rapid.
Will Baker is farm manager at the Thoresby Farming Partnership and is responsible for a wide range of crops across 2,200ha of very variable soils as well as a heritage grazing operation in the heart of Sherwood Forest.
He is the second generation of his family to work on the estate. He studied for an agricultural degree at Harper Adams, after which he worked on farms all around the UK before returning to Thoresby five years ago.
The Pierrepont family acquired the estate in 1601 after building their early fortune on good land management, which remains at the heart of the business four centuries on.
“Combinable crops, maize for AD plus roots and vegetables all feature, grown in flexible rotations driven by soil type to maximise the chance of optimum yields and quality,” says Will.
On lighter soils, there is a seven- to eight-year gap between potato crops and a 10-year break between both onions and carrots. Sugar beet features every four years. Winter barley for seed is grown after a two-year break and maize and wheat fill remaining gaps. There is a heavy reliance on irrigation for all these light-land crops.
On heavier soils it’s all about combinable crops, with first wheats followed by a second wheat or spring barley then oilseed rape or spring beans.
The flexible nature of the rotations also helps keep soils in good health and reduces pest and disease pressure. Decent breaks from winter cropping and the ability to use different modes of chemistry is helping the farm win its battle against blackgrass, although the farm still suffers its share of triple-R ryegrass.
“We also grow some cover crops on heavy land ahead of spring crops,” says Will. "These ideally help us structure our more difficult soils and aid spring crop establishment.”
It is critical the vegetable crops grown by the farm are harvested at the optimum time. “We can’t afford for cereal harvest to hamper this operation, so we like early wheat varieties to help clear the way,” says Will.
He also favours varieties that offer the chance of a premium. “Skyfall has been a long-standing variety on the light land – it is early to harvest and can make milling spec. Disease does need watching but we’ve been growing the variety for many years – it works well on our lighter soils and is flying this year.”
Group 4 soft varieties that can find their way into premium homes also feature widely. These are split between RGT Saki, Astronomer and Skyscraper, although this season Will is multiplying some RGT Bairstow seed on light land.
As well as being the highest yielding soft wheat on the Recommended List it also has good disease resistance, something that the business is looking harder at. “It’s the first time we have grown Bairstow but it is looking good so far,” he says.
The nature of the cropping typifies Thoresby Farming Partnership’s ongoing business ethos and the way it is preparing for the economic, political and environmental challenges that lie ahead.
“We try to spread risk as much as we can; we’re not trying to do too much of one thing,” says Will.
“As a business we are trying to involve the whole farm team as much as possible to help us progress.
“Not only is it is helping them understand what we are trying to do, but it has also led to some really good ideas to help us adapt in the future.”