Collaborating with fellow growers on rotational challenges caused by the loss of key actives is one of the priorities for AHDB’s newest Monitor Farmer.
Richard Ling, who farms in Diss on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, is the latest host in AHDB’s network of farmers interested in improving their business by discussing best practice.
An arable and beef farmer at Rookery Farm Limited, Richard’s decision to join the programme stemmed from a desire to hear the views of fellow growers.
Richard said: “Talking to your fellow growers is going to become an essential part of farming. We’ve become too isolated as an industry and don’t collaborate enough – we can’t continue in this way.
“We want to get people on to the farm to see what we’re doing as we feel like we’ve got something to offer.”
As a Monitor Farm host, Richard will chair regular meetings of fellow farmers in his region, where they will discuss local challenges and how they can overcome them. The programme also involves inviting growers and industry experts on to his farm to scrutinise his business, as well as trying out new methods and techniques.
For Richard, one of the big issues in his region is crop rotation. He said: “We’ve lost a number of plant protection products over the years, meaning it has been difficult to grow crops such as oilseed rape. The lack of actives has meant that growing the crop has been pot luck at times.
“I’m interested in exploring better ways to manage these types of issues with other growers as it’s not always financially viable to replace it with a different crop, such as beans.”
Also on the agenda will be looking at ways of improving soil health. With 380 hectares of arable cropping, Richard’s farm spans the full range of soil types, from sandy loam to heavy clay loam. Soil nutrition is an issue as the variation between fields and in-field means different programmes are required.
Richard said: “Due to cropping decisions we’ve made in the past it’s taken the best part of ten years to get the soil back to a healthy state again, where we’re able to get a decent yield. When it comes to maintaining the soil there are lots of unknowns and plenty to explore. I’m keen to learn how to build resilient, sustainable soils in the long term.”
For Richard being a Monitor Farm host will also allow him to continue and expand on trials he’s already been carrying out on his farm. He has experimented using cover crops to retain soil nutrients, rather than a means of tackling problems such as black-grass.
Alongside arable cropping the farm has a beef enterprise, providing plenty of further opportunities for discussion with other mixed farms in the local area.
At a time of great change for farming, Richard feels it could be good for growers’ mental health to get involved in the Monitor Farm programme by sharing farming challenges others are also facing. He said: “We can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand, we have to work together. We are, after all, trying to achieve the same thing.”
Teresa Meadows, AHDB’s Knowledge Exchange Manager for East Anglia, said: “I’m delighted to have Richard on board. He is an enthusiastic and forward-thinking grower, with a record of trying new methods. He’s also keen to share and discuss topics, making him ideal for the Monitor Farm programme. I’m looking forward to working with him and the local group on business, technical and personal development over the next three years.”
Farmers, agronomists and the industry are invited to a launch meeting and farm walk at Rookery Farm on Tuesday 25 June, to see the farm business and feed in ideas of what they would like to discuss over the course of the programme. For details and to book a place, visit cereals.ahdb.org.uk/diss.
Part of AHDB’s Farm Excellence programme, Monitor Farms bring together groups of farmers interested in improving their businesses by sharing best practice around a nationwide network of host farms.