Farmer Focus – Andrew Jackson

October 2022

Many farmers have been surprised at their yields this year, the starting point must have been a kind autumn and winter, but it appears that sunlight in June contributes more to yield than we thought and rainfall to the beginning of harvest (6 months), was 207mm, could be of less importance. Like the Monty Python Four Yorkshire men sketch some might say that ‘I was lucky’ to have 207mm, nevertheless combined with the hot sunny weather, the soils had become dry and hard. 

We have a small flock of sheep and after watching a YouTube presentation by Christine Jones on Quorum Sensing (essentially highlighting the benefits of herbal leys), it has been our ambition to rejuvenate our permanent pasture into a mixed species herbal ley. Some of you better farmers may not have had problems with the establishment, however we tried direct drilling into our grass, but the grass was too competitive, then we tried spraying off the grass, but the decaying grass emits an acidity which hinders new seed germination. 

Currently we have sprayed off the grass in summer and sown the part field down to stubble turnips and kale, with the intention of sowing our herbal ley in the spring. I am aware that the Australians have a type of rotavator complete with a seeder and this could also be an option to try in the future. Once again, we have reduced our nitrogen rates to 160 Kg/N/Ha and this has provided acceptable yields. We have also trialled the application of foliar Nitrogen, the trial yields could have been better. 

The conclusion in my path to understanding the potential of foliar nitrogen will be to apply two normal nitrogen applications in March to winter sown crops, which will be followed up by subsequent foliar nitrogen applications which may contain Sap analysis product amendments. In April, we experienced blockages within the liquid fertiliser application system, which is fitted to our Horizon drill, this was totally my fault due to my preference to apply some lumpy biological product. Aware that Tim Parton had peristaltic pumps fitted to his John Deere drill, I called Tim and asked for the details of who developed and installed the peristaltic pump, it turned out to be Trevor Tappen who had a stand at Groundswell. 

After clarifying the correct number of noughts from Trevor’s quotation and sitting down for five minutes, I decided to bite the bullet and have the pump fitted to my drill. I have used the system this autumn to apply nitrogen and fish hydrolysate when sowing OSR and Grass seed, so far so good. Last autumn I decided to drill my OSR with an all-legume companion crop, the chosen species were, Crimson clover, Rivendale white clover (ground hugging), Berseem clover and Black Medic (a prostrate trefoil). In the middle of May all the legumes and the OSR were in flower, the field looked a picture. 

The rape yield was respectable, but I am not sure how much nitrogen the legumes brought to the party, maybe the residual nitrogen will show up in the following crop. Two winter wheat fields were sown with seed dressed with Johnson Su seed dressing, one of the fields was within the foliar trial but the other received the 160 Kg/N/Ha and yielded a respectable 10t/Ha Unfortunately, combine yield maps failed to detect any benefit from my Johnson Su, this has not deterred me, and I will continue with these trials. We also made some static compost from chopped grass stalks (left behind a stripper header where grass seed was harvested), chopped straw, volcanic rock dust and some bokashi mix. 

This was a compost based on the work of the German scientist Walter Witte with very few comparables in this country. The PLFA results showed that the compost, which we left on a pad for nearly a year was high in bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, with a good bacteria to fungi ratio, the only low reading was the PFLA diversity. The product has now been spread on a field coming second wheat at 25 tonnes per Ha. We will not know the contribution of the static compost until next harvest. We have been advised to have the SSM gold standard soil test, which although more expensive has provided some useful feedback. The highlight for us is the raising of the soil organic matter levels within the last 10 years, ten fields have shown and average percentage increase of 1.81, this does not sound a lot, but coming from a low base the results indicate a 97% increase leaving all but one very sandy field nicely above 3% organic matter and heading in the right direction. After twelve years of being a cereal seed grower, which has been a blessing in disguise regarding keeping black grass populations low. 

I have concluded that the seed premiums offered do not currently reflect the huge swings in commodity prices especially when I sell at the lowest price point in the year, I have tried to navigate this with futures trading but some years you can be up and others down. Therefore, even though I am a bit late to the party, I have ordered eleven varieties of wheat with the view of growing a blend and retaining the home saved seed for futures years, I may regret this move when I am completing the royalties declaration. My daughter Anna who only took up farming two years ago after a career in photography has been approached by Colin Ramsay and Claire Mackenzie to participate in the film Six Inches of Soil. 

Consequently, Colin and his sound assistant have visited us periodically throughout the season and there was also some filming at Groundswell together with the other participants who feature in the film. Groundswell was once again blessed with good weather and the event seems to move on from strength to strength, I was keen to maximise on the bar in the evening so together with a new expensive ground mat and sleeping bag, we camped once again. My lasting memory of the evening was leaving two farmers propping up the corner post of the marquee or was it propping them up?

 Looking to the future, the Six Inches of Soil crew have arranged for Anna and I to visit John Pawsey, a farmer who I admire and Direct Driller columnist whose articles are better than Jeremy Clarkson’s. Speaking of Jeremy, I believe that his program Clarkson’s Farm was universally enjoyed, even by the people who had not enjoyed his bombastic approach as seen in Top Gear. My youngest daughter works with a friend of Jeremy’s, and I hatched a plan to ask this young man to give Jeremy a copy of Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown. The book was duly sourced and packaged and the handover took place on the day of a shoot. The book was accompanied by an email from me, and my vague hope was that the third series of Clarkson’s farm would touch on Regenerative Agriculture. I have heard nothing to date. Recently Anna attended an event called FarmEd, which was aimed at the under thirties. 

Not all attendees were young farmers and the blend of young people, 50% of whom were women, from other professions, made for an enjoyable and informative event. Talking of events don’t forget to book up for the BASE UK conference at Nottingham in February 2023, this will the tenth AGM and hopefully it will be a bit special.