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Frontier launches new crop trials plots at Honingham Thorpe Farms

Left to right, Jamie Lockhart of Honingham Thorpe Farms, and Rob Norman, Andrew Melton and Emily Page of Frontier Agriculture. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Left to right, Jamie Lockhart of Honingham Thorpe Farms, and Rob Norman, Andrew Melton and Emily Page of Frontier Agriculture. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

A new crop trials site will aim to give Norfolk farmers valuable comparisons on new varieties, soil improvement strategies and nutrient applications.

Frontier Agriculture, one of the country’s largest crop inputs and grain marketing businesses, has struck up a partnership to carry out its research at Honingham Thorpe Farms, west of Norwich.

After 25 years at its previous site at Gressenhall, near Dereham, Frontier moved its development base to take advantage of a greater diversity of soil types and irrigation options, and closer geographical links with the Norwich Research Park.

About four hectares will be planted with trial crops, in fields which are part of the farm’s regular arable rotation, giving the opportunity to judge the impact of different varieties, soil conditions, and agronomic strategies in a real-world commercial environment.

Andrew Melton, Frontier’s regional agronomy sales manager, said: “This is a scientifically-based set of replicated trials which gives farmers a chance to come and look at a set of varieties which they are growing, or could be growing in the future, within a real rotation.

“After 25 years at Gressenhall and it was time to move on.

“It grew and it grew but it became apparent two or three years ago that we had done as much as we could do with that site and that soil type. “Here, we have got different soil types and irrigation, and we have the opportunity to be closer to the John Innes Centre and the BBRO (British Beet Research Organisation).”

The first test plantings include 13 varieties of oilseed rape, barley for feed and malting, 45 varieties of wheat, and seven “cover crop” mixes, designed to reduce nutrient loss and improve the organic matter in the soil.

“There have been a lot of question marks over cover crops, and I think we all fundamentally believe that it must be the right thing to do,” said Mr Melton. “Our most important resource has to be the soil, and we must do what we can to protect and improve it. If we can get organic matter maintained or increased then the nutrients will be better used and the farm machinery works better.

“Disease resistance is another big thing. There are no magic fungicides coming around the corner, and a lot of our crop protection products are under threat, so we need to know whether there are tweaks we can make with disease resistance.”

In future, Mr Melton said there could be potential to investigate drought tolerance by using the control of the farm’s irrigation network to compare trial plots in wet and dry conditions.

Honingham Thorpe Farms manager Jamie Lockhart said part of the motivation to get involved in the project was to learn from trials which could bring benefits to his own arable operation.

He said: “I think the most exciting thing is the long-term rotation of the trials, which will give us the full picture rather than just looking at this wheat or that wheat.

“We will have been involved in these trials from the start, and seeing the layering effect of different applications, like the growing of cover crops and playing around with rotations as well. If we can get accurate results, it will help give us an edge. From that point of view we will be putting pressure on to make sure all these things are costed so we can see whether the results are viable. It may be that we cannot afford to do it – but maybe we cannot afford not to do it.”

Mr Lockhart said his farm used independent agronomists, who could act as a balancing mechanism to check and question the results of the trials.

Frontier will host an Open Day at the Honingham Thorpe trial plots on October 27. To register a place, contact hannah.taylor1@frontierag.co.uk.

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