Creating sustainable systems

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Farmers focused on how to create a sustainable, profitable system at the summer meeting of the AHDB Monitor Farm in Saltburn.

Farm manager John Aynsley hosts the AHDB project at Skelton Estate and has soil improvement at the top of his priority list for his own farm.

He said: “We want to make the soil easier to farm and to get the balance of nutrients better. But I also want to improve the margin here [on part of the farm], to do better than what we’re getting with continuous wheat.”

The Monitor Farm project at Skelton focuses on 250 acres of land which used to be in continuous wheat, where there is difficult soil and a problem with brome.

To try to address the problem and improve his margins, John has changed his crop establishment and rotation.

  • Purchased a second-hand tine-based direct drill
  • Rotation expanded to include winter beans, winter wheat, oilseed rape and spring barley
  • Mustard cover crop grown before spring barley

According to Soil First Farming consultant Steve Townsend, the main problem with John’s soil is the calcium to magnesium ratio, which makes the soil tight to work.

John said: “Depending on the soil analysis results, we may be applying lime this autumn.”

For Judith Stafford, AHDB knowledge exchange manager, the key is to create a sustainable system that’s profitable too.

She said: “We had some great discussions during the meeting that really showed the power of farmer-to-farmer learning and sharing experiences. It’s a really powerful thing, especially when we have these discussions around a benchmarking system like Farmbench.”

A year in to the Monitor Farm project, there’s still a lot to learn and improve.

John said: “The land is still hard to drill, although brome is better now.

“I’m more cynical now than I used to be, about the things we’ve bought into as farmers. You have to question everything you use and who benefits from it.”

The next round of Monitor Farm meetings at Saltburn will start in November. For more information, visit



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