The Hutchinsons Helix project is a unique, farm scale, national trials-based initiative looking at improving farm economic and environmental profitability.
Launched two years ago, and now with more than seven farms located across the country, the network is expanding even further this spring, to include two new farms Barelees Farm in Northumberland and RK Fisher & Son in Fife.
Thomas Todd farms with his parents, wife Claire and son David at Barelees Farm, Cornhill-on-Tweed, near Coldstream. They grow winter wheat, oilseed rape, spring barley and vining peas on generally light sandy clay loams.
Mr Todd has always had a keen interest in, and hosted various trials over the years, as he looks to new approaches and technologies to improve profitability.
“Soil health is very important to us, cultivations are based on a min-till system and moving towards direct drilling, we have not ploughed here for twenty years,” he explains.
“Cover cropping is an area of particular interest for us, we keep all of the farm green the whole year round, even behind the peas, so this will be a key part of what we are looking at within the context of the Helix project.
“We limit how much glyphosate we use, cover crops are cultivated out with the following crop drilled behind. If really needed, 0.5l/ha glyphosate goes in with the pre-em.”
“All of the fields at Barelees Farm have been scanned with TerraMap. So we have been able to produce high definition maps of all common nutrient properties, pH, soil texture, organic matter and CEC as well as elevation and plant available water.’
As part of the work within Helix we are looking at how we can use NDVI data to help us apply our Nitrogen more accurately.
“Bringing Barelees Farm on board to join the Helix Project is a really exciting step forward,” says George Robson, agronomist for Thomas Todd.
“It’s very much a team approach between myself and Thomas, as we work together to analyse first-hand how potential new technologies may enhance agricultural performance-and equally dismiss those that don’t. We look forward to sharing our experiences with other growers in the region.”
Roy Fisher of Roy K Fisher & Co, Anstruther, Fife is keen to look at any new approaches or technologies that will help him improve soil health and reduce input costs and still remain profitable.
“Current farming practices are being challenged; no longer can we continue using high levels of artificial inputs which create a false impression of yields nor can we rely on the labour force as we once did – we need to find more efficient ways of doing things.”
He believes that R&D holds the answers – be that through technology or understanding and implementing different approaches to crop establishment and pushing yields.
“So it makes complete sense for us to be a Helix farm – our approach and that of Hutchinsons are in line – it’s of mutual benefit to us both.”
“Being a part of the project and hosting trials of new technologies, products and approaches means we get to see the results first hand with the support of technical experts, and ultimately the potential benefit to our farming business.”
With over 50,000 broilers, Mr Fisher is always looking at ways of incorporating the poultry muck into his 600ha’s of arable cropping.
Two years ago, Mr Fisher took on a new agronomist, Morven Anderson of Hutchinsons, who is very much aligned to his vision of how he wants to farm. “ She introduced us to Omnia, and now all of our agronomy is integrated within this platform and is very much at the forefront of our decision making.”
“We are also a LEAF Marque farm and use Omnia for data gathering to satisfy the LEAF mark.”
All of the farm has been TerraMapped, producing the most accurate variable rate plans for drilling and nutrition. “As part of Helix we have put in some cover cropping trials – and this will allow us to see what works best on our fields through soil health improvements, whilst maintaining yields. We are also looking at trials with biological seed treatments.”
“It’s certainly going to be an interesting year!”
“I am incredibly excited to introduce Helix Fife into the Hutchinsons network for 2022,” says Morven Anderson, agronomist for Roy Fisher.
“It brings a valuable opportunity for Scottish growers to engage with recent technological developments and we have a range of interesting trials that we hope to feedback on at open days throughout the year.”
“A key aspect of R & D is transparency. Helix Fife will provide a platform for growers to gather and openly discuss what may or may not work under their own environmental conditions. It is this systems-based thinking that will allow us to use the measured data to support and optimise on farm decision making to benefit both farm profitability and the environment.”