Farmer Focus – John Farrington

No one wants to talk about the recent weather over the last 5-6 months, in summary it has been bloody awful and relentless for farmers and non-farmers alike and I expect most farm records have all been smashed for the wrong reasons. The topic and the big consequences that farmers have endured and suffered has certainly been one way to get people feeling pretty down, with plenty of stress and worry added into the job. 

It has been good to get off farm and visit a couple of other farms over the last month or so; I visited David White and Ben Martin in Cambridgeshire and Regen Ben in Herefordshire.  It was great to get off farm for the day with a change of scene and see what others are up to.  You always come back with ideas, possible improvements you can implement and confidence that others are making it work, so crack on and have a go. It is great for your mind to have a break from the home farm and chat to others, so I encourage you to all get off your own farm for a day, whether that be visiting another farmer or spending the day with the family, it will lift your spirits.    

With our sheep enterprise we are part of a beef and sheep grazing group and we hosted the Southwest late winter farm walk. (it certainly wasn’t early spring!!) We are only coming into our 3rd season with sheep on the farm, so it was great to show some more experienced minds what we get up to and get some external feedback. The day was led by James Daniel, from Precision Grazing, who has been brilliant in helping my brother, Charlie, get the sheep enterprise set up.  There were plenty of interesting discussions in the shed (to keep dry) and then out in the field visiting herbal leys, cover crops, arable reversion and ewes in a field of muddy turnips. We took a lot away from the day and found it very useful.

Top of picture 6th March, Bottom of picture 22nd January after sheep grazing, taken from same spot.

We have started a straw for muck arrangement with a neighbour, he bales and hauls the straw behind the combine at harvest, we then put 2 tractors and trailers on when he is clearing out the sheds during the winter, he loads with his handler. There is no money changing hands, but they are roughly counting bales into the cattle shed when bedding up.  It has worked well so far, even though it has been very wet we have not made too much mess considering the rainfall… One trailer is on flotation tyres and the other is on super singles. One hardly leaves a mark and the other leaves a nice rut when loaded (this trailer is borrowed) so amazing to see the benefit of flotations.

It will be spread on growing wheat (all of which has been grazed during Jan/Feb) if the ground conditions allow and the rest will be going on in front of maize. We have had the FYM analysed and now just working out the rates per Ha. A good load or two an acre should do!! 

The wheat is generally ok after the horrendous weather, some heavier areas and odd headlands of fields have not survived and will need to be dealt with in the spring. Grazing the wheat has been closely managed with the sheep moving every 2-3 days so they don’t make a mess…..other than one Sunday evening when a storm and heavy rain came through!!  I thought someone had been out with the plough overnight when we checked them Monday 7am. You would not be able to spot that area from the rest of the field now. See pictures. This is not our normal practice; it will be a good on farm trial.

One of the big farming buzz words flying around is “SFI”. We have recently spent time in the office going through the various options available in addition to our Mid-Tier agreement. I have spoken to a few farmers who don’t want to be involved and can’t see the benefit, but for us and the way we are farming it is a no brainer and it will benefit the business. We are doing quite a lot of the options already off our own back so the payment is a welcome bonus.  We are certainly not putting the whole farm down to SFI and stopping farming. We will be integrating SFI into the farm business to compliment what we are already doing on the arable, sheep and environmental sides of the business and the extra income (including taking account of income foregone) will certainly help the bottom line with BPS reducing rapidly.

Flotation tyre on left, super single on right

Last summer we started a project that had been simmering in my mind for a number of years. The council lane that leads into our main farmyard has got very poor access, sharp bends, neighbours, narrow width, fields either side higher than the road, so altering the existing lane on a dark winters night when no one was looking was not an option. We could only take a rigid lorry, no artics, the combine and large machines had to go along a soil track through a number of fields.  Planning permission was approved and work started to open up a new access out onto the road, a site for a shed, and a track leading down to the farm to bypass the council lane.  It is one of those projects you wish you had done 10 years ago. It was a fantastic feeling when we had the first artic grain lorry arrive at the farm in the autumn, and not having to worry what size lorry the deliveries were coming on. Never under estimate how much soil there is to move when you start digging, we certainly did !!

Now we are a mixed farm rather than straight arable, we can and need to be more flexible on cropping rotation etc. We have persevered with under performing arable fields for a while now and these wet years have highlighted this even more, so now we have got the sheep we have decided to take them out of arable and put them down with herbal ley and make better use of them, they will hopefully be in a better state when arable crops return to them in 4-5 years’ time. We don’t necessarily need the extra grass around in May time when the herbal ley will be at its most productive, so we are planning to sell a 1st cut of silage to a neighbour to get the main bulk away and then we can make use out of it for the rest of the year with the ewes and lambs. It will also mean that the lambing paddocks can have a good rest from sheep to help with grass recovery rest period and any worm burdens that might have built up during lambing. Once the silage has been cut, within a couple of weeks we will then have lovely fresh grazing for the lambs all through summer and autumn.

I hope the weather improves so we can all get back on the land and make some progress, a bit of sun will also lift the spirits of everyone. Its amazing just what a couple of sunny days can do.