Farmer Focus – Phil Rowbottom

March 2024

It feels like a very long time since my last ramblings in the October issue of Direct Driller magazine. I’m sure I’m not the only one that thought we’d never experience another winter like we had in 2019, the wettest on record at the time!

While winter 2023/24 may not have seen the surface water running through the yard we experienced in 2019, there are places on the farm that I’ve not seen water standing in all the years we’ve been here, we recorded the highest rainfall here at Mount Farm Woolley, a staggering 900mm for the year, almost double on the year before.

I felt quite fortunate back in October to have managed to get everything planted before the weather got really bad, the crops don’t look quite as good now as they did back then! Oilseed rape has for sometime been the biggest gamble on the farm, after a couple of good years, it’s seems Cabbage Stem Flee Beetle has found its way back to this part of Yorkshire, having twice drilled one field late last year, a combination CSFB, pigeons and the weather, after consultation with my agronomist, we decided the best course of action was to plant winter wheat into it, add into that the sheer costs and risk involved and the options with SFI, OSR’s days may well be numbered here!

Miraculously, a weather window opened presented itself at the end of January, on the 2nd of February I was back out with the Sky Drill planting Skyscraper winter wheat, at 240kg to the ha, into what can only be described as almost perfect conditions.

Dry, sunny, a light breeze, if it hadn’t been for the temperature you could have been lulled into thinking it was Spring! Having seen the amount of water lying on neighbouring land, it was surprising just how well ground travelled.

As I write this its still raining, the forecast is for more rain, having managed to get 110kg per/ha of nitrogen applied, I’m estimating there is around 10% of the farm that won’t produce a crop due to the weather, the biggest piece, around 15 acres has pretty much failed completely 3
years after potatoes will have a mix of wild flower, Facilia and buckwheat cover crop planted in it and left until the autumn.

With input costs continuing to be high and wheat prices as they are, costs will be focused on year more than they have ever been, if we can reduce inputs and not effect yields then we will push the limits as far as we can. Having not sold anything out of the shed to date, like so many, we’re waiting for the prices to creep up!

Now into the third year of Direct Drilling, the benefits are becoming more and more plain to see. Admittedly we farm some pretty easy, free draining light sandy land, the benefit of not disturbing the soil structure, pays dividends in being able to access the ground sooner than the old plough based system.

By not disturbing the soil, leaving tramlines in the same place, keeping trailers on the headlands, chopping straw to add to organic matter all seem to help here. planting cover crops between harvest and the next crop all help with soil health. It just seems to work here.

(Pic 4)

I’m sure many of my neighbours think I’m mad, but all I can say is come and have a look, the proof is there for everyone to see. We recently hosted a farm visit form West Yorkshire Combined Authorities, a mixture of academics and farmers to see what we are doing and how it can play a role in their future environmental policy, a very informative day listening to other farmers talk about how they can see the benefits and challenges on their farms and to share the wider environmental and ecological improvements we are seeing with a none farming audience, just a pity the weather did’nt play ball, but that’s farming!