Cultivation strategies under the spotlight at Dereham Monitor Farm

The AHDB's Dereham Monitor Farm: Swanton Morley Farms, near Dereham. Pictured: Farm manager Simon Br

The AHDB's Dereham Monitor Farm: Swanton Morley Farms, near Dereham. Pictured: Farm manager Simon Brock. - Credit: Archant

A mid Norfolk farm opened up its management strategies to industry debate as part of an ideas-sharing network aiming to boost productivity across the industry.

Swanton Morley Farms, based at Hoe Hall, near Dereham, is the first Norfolk business to join the Monitor Farm network run by AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds, a branch of the levy-funded Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

More than 50 farmers met at Swanton Morley Village Hall to discuss the Dereham Monitor Farm's crop establishment decisions, to suggest improvements, and to hear ideas which might benefit their own operation.

Farm manager Simon Brock said the regime of cultivation and sowing dates had been redesigned in an effort to stop the yield-sapping effects of black-grass weeds.

While winter wheat and barley were previously all drilled by the end of September, many fields were now being started in October to allow black-grass time to germinate and be destroyed before the commercial crop was established.

Within its seven-course rotation on heavier land, the farm mixes low-disturbance and minimal cultivation methods with rotational ploughing every two or three years.

Visiting farmers debated the pros and cons of the system, with positive points including its resilience to the weather, the effective establishment of oilseed rape and a high level of black-grass control. Negatives included questions over the economics of winter barley within the rotation, and the lack of satellite-guided controlled traffic system – something which Mr Brock said he would like to introduce, but is 'prohibitively expensive'.

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He acknowledged there were positives and negatives to ploughing, which buries black-grass seeds and can make land safer in a wet autumn, but is slow and immediately adds the cost of another cultivation pass.

After the discussion, Mr Brock said the farm's strategy was 'stabilising' the risk from black-grass, but he was always interested to hear new ideas.

'Cultivation, I find, is the most tricky thing of all,' he said. 'There are so many different ways of doing it. People can criticise it and they may have different ways of doing it. But the whole idea of the Monitor Farm is to bring like-minded people together to share ideas.'

Tim Isaac, AHDB knowledge exchange manager for East Anglia, said collaborative efforts to reduce costs and improve profitability – using the real-life experiences of Monitor Farms as a case study – would become increasingly valuable in the coming years.

He said: 'We are going to see major upheavals, economically and politically, and there will undoubtedly be threats, but also opportunities – and the Monitor Farms programme allows businesses to get in the best situation they can to deal with that. It is about business resilience.'