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Norfolk Ryvita grower defies science with high-yielding rye crop

PUBLISHED: 14:30 23 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:20 23 November 2018

Award-winning Norfolk farmer Andrew Hunt in a field of Rye grown for Ryvita. Picture: Mary Hunt

Award-winning Norfolk farmer Andrew Hunt in a field of Rye grown for Ryvita. Picture: Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt

An award-winning Norfolk farm manager has defied science by growing a bigger rye crop than analysts thought was possible from his field outside Norwich.

Rye crops being harvested for Ryvita at Great Melton Farms. Picture: Dominic BellRye crops being harvested for Ryvita at Great Melton Farms. Picture: Dominic Bell

Andrew Hunt of Great Melton Farms, who produces up to 2,000 tonnes of rye each year for crispbread maker Ryvita, won a national award after exceeding the yield potential of his field at Little Melton.

The Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) competition presents prizes for the country’s biggest overall crop yields, but also celebrates the farmers who make the optimum use of their available resources.

By assessing the soil type, rainfall, sunshine and nutrient levels of each specific site, researchers calculate each applicants’ maximum potential yield – and reward the farmer who gets closest to achieving it.

Mr Hunt won the gold award for achieving 103% of his potential yield of 10.9 tonnes per hectare – beating the maximum calculated by researchers from agricultural consultancy ADAS.

Norfolk farmer Andrew Hunt grows rye for crisp-bread maker Ryvita. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNorfolk farmer Andrew Hunt grows rye for crisp-bread maker Ryvita. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

After a drought-stricken summer, he attributed the success to his farm’s focus on maximising root growth, using strategies evolved over 20 years of carrying out crop trials for Ryvita.

“We do everything we can to encourage root growth, through timed use of nitrogen and other products,” he said. “If we go into times of drought and stress, the bigger the root in the ground, the better it will be.

“We have hosted the Ryvita trial site for over 20 years, which has given us a lot of data. We do trials on fertiliser response curves, and finding the optimum nitrogen levels for yield without putting more on than we need to, and then fine-tuning it to find the right protein level for Ryvita.

“Everything we have done in all this research work has given us the tools to help encourage root growth, putting the right product on at the right time. We have won this award twice now, so we must be doing something right.”

Mr Hunt, whose application was sponsored by agronomy firm Hutchinsons, said rye’s aggressive growth made it good at scavenging nutrients from poorer soils such as his sandy loam, overlying gravel.

“Your root is underground, but it is half your crop,” he said. “The YEN calculations were based on roots of 1.5m but Roger Sylvester-Bradley (head of crop performance at ADAS) calculated our crop would have had to be pulling moisture out from 4m deep, which is nigh-on impossible.

“But because we are growing on sandy loam over gravel there is nothing to say these roots are not going that far down and grabbing water where they find it.”

Prof Roger Sylvester-Bradley, head of crop performance at ADAS, who leads the Cereal YEN, said: “Yields this year were surprisingly good, given the drought. Some farms are regularly producing exceptional yields, and the whole industry needs to learn from what they are doing.”

Among this year’s other YEN awards was the overall best cereal field yield, achieved by Lincolnshire farmer Tim Lamyman with a wheat crop of 16.2 tonnes per hectare.

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