The good, the bad and the ugly

Farmers should be congratulated for continuing to produce food at low prices by constantly fine-tuning their businesses and keeping updated with the latest machinery, plant breeding developments and precision management techniques, says Jeff Claydon. The inventor of the Opti-Till® direct seeding system contemplates the challenges for UK farming and provides an update on the Claydon family’s arable farm in Suffolk.

May 2024

Many of you will remember the widely acclaimed spaghetti western from 1966 ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ starring Clint Eastwood. Its title neatly sums up the state of crops on many farms, including the Claydon Farm, this season. Some are good, some are bad, and some are downright ugly, to the point where no amount of lipstick will improve the look of the pig.

In the ‘good’ category our spring oats and oilseed rape are doing well. The ‘bad’ include wheats drilled in areas where the drainage was starting to falter just before the monsoon hit during October, while wheats drilled after then in sub-par conditions had ‘wet feet’ for far too long and are just plain ‘ugly’. I see little difference where cover crops were used, so at a time when margins are under severe pressure and input costs are under the microscope they may fall by the wayside.

This field of Skyscraper winter wheat was drilled on 15 October, just before the relentless rains set in. By February the crop was significantly more advanced than where the farm experimented with slightly deeper drilling to avoid the emerging crop potentially being affected by pre-emergence herbicides. The first ears were just about to emerge when this photograph was taken during the third week of May.

Since last harvest our weather station has recorded more than a metre of rain, almost double our annual average, making it hard to believe that we farm in one of the driest parts of the country. The appalling weather will doubtless have a significant adverse impact on farm income this year.

While researching data for various presentations made recently I noticed that only in 2022 did UK farm income climb back to its 1995 level, circa 8 Billion. In 1995, a new 145hp Case 1455XL listed at £51,000, agricultural land averaged £4788/ha and May London wheat futures averaged £127.90/t. Subsequently they declined steadily to a sub-£60/t low in October 2000, an unsustainable level which prompted me to develop the Claydon Opti-Till® System. In the interim, machinery prices have increased by multiples and arable land is just short of its 2016 peak, around £25,000/ha.

In a world where the average measure of inflation, the government’s Retail Price Index (based on its long run series from 1800 to 2024, with a base line of 100 in January 1974) has risen from 645 in January 1999 to 1510 in March 2024, an increase of almost 250%. The mere fact that any farmers are still in business shows just how efficient our industry has had to become to cope with those rises in input costs.

The foreword to the Andersons Outlook 2024 report ( states: “The coming year seems likely to be the one when the reality of post-CAP farm support hits home on many farms. After record farming profits in 2022, returns are set to fall to more normal levels in 2023 and the coming year is likely to see this situation persist as high costs continue to bear down on UK agriculture”.

According to Defra figures, Total Income From Farming (TIFF) in the UK from 2017 to 2022 averaged £6.0 billion, the lowest value being £4.9 billion in 2018.  From a high of £7.9 billion in 2022, £1.1 billion (16.6%) above 2021, Andersons estimate a significant drop to under £5 billion and 40% lower profits for 2023, with little change during 2024 in the face of challenging market conditions.

To put that into context the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, which has 27.3% of the UK grocery market, reported a pre-tax profit of £2.289 Billion in the year to 24 February, almost three times the previous year’s figure.

Elsoms Lion spring oats looked well during the third week of May and with a price of £240/t being quoted could perform well.


For decades farmers have been pushed and pulled from every angle so it’s understandable that many are confused about what lies ahead. Currently there appears to be no clear direction from our politicians, a lot of confusion amongst farmers over the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), and uncertainty over output prices. At a time when there’s no financial margin for error that’s not a good situation.

Confidence in farming may be at an all-time low, but as burying our heads in the sand won’t work we must retain the enthusiasm to farm well and consider ways to operate even more efficiently. Looking on the bright side, they’re not making more land so what there is will need to be farmed more efficiently by fine-tuning our approach to get the best from it. After all the rain over the last few months many farms are running like a V8 engine on only four cylinders, so that must be corrected.

In small areas on the Claydon Farm where existing drains were reaching the end of their life or had insufficient capacity to take water away over the last few months new laterals were laid through standing crops this spring.

Another positive is that Defra has released details of SOH1: No-till farming, an action in the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme to incentivise the use of no-tillage farming techniques to minimise soil disturbance. Its stated purpose is ‘to improve soil health, fertility, structure, soil water storage and reduce runoff, help to keep organic matter and nutrients in the soil, provide benefits for carbon, water quality and biodiversity, and protect historic environment features’.

To qualify, crops entered in to this three-year scheme, which pays £73/ha annually, must be established using broadcast equipment or a ‘no-till’ direct drill, a term which includes tine drills, disc drills and precision seed drills.  You must not use conventional or shallow min-till machinery but a stubble rake/Straw Harrow with rearward facing tines can be used to prepare land prior to drilling.

This is great news for Claydon users because our Opti-Till® System has been proven in all soils, conditions and crops over 21 years, with Claydon straw harrows and drills approved for the SFI Revenue grant and eligible for Farming Equipment Technology Fund (FETF) grants.

Because of the lead time involved in applying for and receiving grants, which may also be capped due to limitations on funding, my advice is to do so as early as possible. The other thing to consider is that because of increasing costs, higher interest rates and ongoing supply chain disruptions, manufacturers and dealers are no longer able to carry copious stocks, so even if awarded a grant it is unlikely that you will be able to obtain the machine you want immediately.

Water flowing from one of the new drains at the end of May.


This season has highlighted the substantial impact of drainage on crop performance. Where drainage is good the soil will have the optimum air to water balance and support machinery without rutting, worms and biota thrive and crops achieve optimum performance. Where drainage is substandard crops are visibly worse and will perform poorly.

In the corner of one field where the old drainage system failed we had 3ha of wheat which took ‘ugly’ to a whole new level. We drilled it in the autumn just prior to the monsoon and it emerged poorly with lots of grassweeds, so we sprayed it off in mid-November and redrilled on a frost in December. Given the prolonged wet weather it emerged alongside a flush of grassweeds, so we sprayed it off again and redrilled with millet. Talk about throwing good money after bad!

Being a realist I consider everything we do in detail to identify where improvements can be made. To avoid a repeat of what happened on that thankfully small area, we have just invested £30,000 on installing new plastic drains in areas highlighted by the extreme wet weather. Even at the end of May they are still running, so I can say confidently there’s zero likelihood of crops facing a Soil Moisture Deficit this season.

We also mole drained 40ha to ensure that water reaches the new laterals. Moles can last up to 30 years if formed under the right conditions, as we have had this spring, so it’s worth doing the job well. Over the years we have owned several mole drainers which have never been quite what we wanted, so this year we designed our own. The key feature of the new Claydon single-leg mole plough is its long beam which allows the bullet to run parallel, resulting in a uniform, stable mole that stays at the correct depth and enables water to drain away. It can be precisely adjusted and is user friendly.

A prototype of the new Claydon mole drainer on a trial area used for evaluation purposes.

When evaluating the new machine we went through standing crops at GS 30/31 at a 2.7m spacing. Our 345hp John Deere 8345R recorded just five per cent wheel slip and damage to the crop was so slight that it’s hard to see where it ran. Doing the job in the spring allows the roots to grow down and stabilise the soil so autumn-sown crops will benefit. It also gives the new moles time to cure over the summer months, ensuring that they remain efficient for many years to come.

Wear on the mole leg after 40ha shows no levels at which compaction was present.

After all the rain this season many will assume that land will need to be subsoiled after harvest and factor that operation into their plans, but unless you or a soil expert dig down to check whether a pan is impeding water flow I suspect that time and money will be wasted doing a job which isn’t necessary. In the short-term subsoiling might allow water to drain away from the surface but more likely it’s the drainage system which is at fault. Due to the lack of grants many systems are approaching or past their sell-by date, so it is well worth checking that first.


Spring drilling using our 6m Claydon Evolution M6 went well, any surface compaction caused by the extended wet weather being removed by the leading tines, so those crops fall into my ‘good’ category.

We grow a significant area of spring oats to help keep the land clean, but with no chemicals available to control it in spring oats blackgrass has made an appearance, as it has on many other farms this season. Our 6m Claydon TerraBlade inter-row hoe has been invaluable in a season where cold, wet conditions have reduced the effectiveness of agchems. This low-cost machine is very effective at taking out weeds growing between the rows, protecting yields, increasing returns and preventing seeds from being carried over to the following crop. Independent research shows that it reduces headcounts by 60%, which, in the trial, resulted in an increase in gross margin by £257/ha (wheat @£200/t).

Effectiveness of the Claydon TerraBlade is evident from these before and after photographs. Weeds between the rows were quickly and efficiently removed by blades running just below the surface.

Making best use of agchems at a time when many are being legislated out of existence and little new chemistry is coming along we are happy to participate in field trials to make the most of what is available. Currently, we are hosting Agrii trials to identify which treatments are most effective against grassweeds and monitoring the results closely.

With farming incomes way below where they should be on an inflation-adjusted basis farmers are having to work harder and take on more risk just to stay in business. Unless a business makes a profit it isn’t a business so, whether you farm on a small or a large scale, when margins are under severe pressure it’s essential to assess how to make the transitional changes needed to be in the top 25%.

Visit to hear from farmers across the UK and further afield who are achieving great results with Opti-Till on a range of crops on varying soils in all climates.  You can also keep up with the latest posts, photographs, and videos from Claydon and its customers through the Claydon Facebook page