Fenland farmer wins national award after achieving the ‘holy grail of wheat growing’

AHDB Milling Wheat Conference 2018. Sam Markillie, YEN Wheat Quality Award winner, receives his cert

AHDB Milling Wheat Conference 2018. Sam Markillie, YEN Wheat Quality Award winner, receives his certificate from Howard Leland. Picture: Alan Bennett. - Credit: Alan Bennett/Media Imaging Solutions 2018

A Fenland arable farmer has won a national award recognising excellence in the pursuit of consistent, high-quality wheat yields.

Sam Markillie, who farms a 1,000ha arable unit between Wisbech and Kings Lynn, won gold in the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) wheat quality award after growing a crop of Gallant variety which yielded 12.54 tonnes per hectare, and 14pc protein.

As part of a farm that consistently achieves high-quality specifications for milling wheat, he said the advice he would give to growers is to understand the importance of attention to detail.

'It's about investing in the crop and getting the maximum returns out of it and not compromising on yield and quality,' he said. 'Be professional – understand and analyse what you're doing'.

The growing regime for the winning crop included regular soil analysis to determine background nutrient levels, plus fertiliser applications tailored closely to crop requirements.

Mr Markillie said timings of chemical applications were critical to achieving quality, both at harvest and during the growing season, and added that he is particularly keen to try different nitrogen strategies to manage the 'protein dilution' common at higher yields.

This includes splitting nitrogen use into six applications through the season, from early spring to the beginning of June, comprising solid and liquid forms to spread the risks associated with crop scorch and limited granular uptake in dry conditions.

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'We want to time applications closer to when crops need nitrogen to produce yield and protein, rather than just putting more on early for canopy growth,' he said.

Protein dilution has long been the nemesis for many growers of quality wheats, said Dr Bob Bulmer of agronomy firm Hutchinsons, which sponsored Mr Markillie's entry.

'It's an outstanding achievement; to get that sort of yield combined with high protein is the holy grail of wheat growing,' he said.

'A lot of the success is down to soil management. Fertile soil is part of this, but so is producing soil structure and crop growth that allows nutrients to be accessed efficiently.

'There is also a 'farmer factor' whereby some farmers are able to achieve quality more reliably than others.'