Friday, 21 December 2012

Preparations For Oxford farming Conference

Sorry that I have not been blogging as much recently but I have been busy preparing my presentation for this years Oxford Farming Conference This will be the first time that I have attended this prestigious conference and there I will be, up on the podium!  What an honor!  My subject title is "Will Precision Farming Change The Face of UK Agriculture"  I have been working on the speech on and off since September, although to be honest it has only been in the last 3 weeks that the magnitude on what I have to do has sunk in.  The list of speakers is very impressive so I think there will be some very interesting papers delivered and good discussions generated.  
Anyway, the talk and the presentation is coming along nicely now, although I will feel sorry for my wife and children who will have to listen to more than one rehearsal, over the Christmas and New Year period!
Nerves aside I am really looking forward to the event, catching up with some of my 2013 Nuffield Scholars and exercising the grey matter over a glass or two of orange juice.
At the same time I have been thinking about my Nuffield project, blog still to come, so the pressure is starting to mount!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Starting My Nuffield Study

Well, what can I say and where do I start?
On Thursday last week Andrea and I headed to the Stratford Manor Hotel to begin my first ever Nuffield briefing and conference.  We were met by 21 other 2013 Scholars (and partners) all about to begin the next two years of International study and what an electric atmosphere there was in that room. There were people there from all over the country; from Scotland, Cornwall, Kent and everywhere else in between, all with one thing in common.  They (we) all share a passion for their farming sector, a desire to improve our industry and to grow and develop themselves. In the words of the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust who's mission is.....
"Leading positive change in agriculture, inspiring passion and potential in people"
Following on from Thursday evening, a lovely dinner at the Heritage Motor Museum, we started the conference bright and early on Friday.  There were some fascinating topics all very professionally presented by the 2011 scholars.  A lot to live up to!  Topics included, top fruit competitiveness, creating national niche' products, family farm succession, managing larger dairy units and maximising timber value from UK woodlands, among others.  After a short break we were all presented with our Nuffield ties, for the guys and brooches for the girls, by Peter Kendall (NFU President).  Here is the picture of  Tanya Robbins from Grafton (next door farm to me at Overbury) me and Jane Currill (far left-secretary of the Central Region Farmers Trust), with Stephen Watkins and Peter Kendall.  The CRFT is one of many of the trusts that actually put up the sponsorship money to enable the scholars to travel and study.  I think I am the 7th or 8th scholar they have sponsored and for this opportunity I am very grateful, so thank you.
The annual dinner followed the awards later in the evening and my name was first out of the hat for the raffle, so I picked out a pedal tractor from Chris Tallis Farm Machinery.  (Small world- but shhhh don't tell Jorja!).  The presentations resumed on Saturday morning, not so bright but early, a very inspiring line up of presentations.  These included, sustainable agriculture, soil fertility and fertiliser use efficiency, rebuilding soil carbon (Rob - fellow CRFT scholar), price risk management and grain supply chains. 
We met some very interesting people all at the top of their farming sectors and all willing to help and support, all you have to do is ask.  It was very uplifting, positive and alleviated some apprehension about what I had got myself into!.  Now for the next bit, my subject!  That's coming up in another blog but I'll leave you with a thought, 9billion people in the world how are we going to feed them?
I think I'm going to need to drive one of these to fit everything in, so hold onto your hats, keep following the blog and join me on my adventure of a lifetime!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Soil and Water, Our Greatest Team?

What can I say, one of the most riveting conferences I have been to in a very long time, well done to the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) for putting it all together.  Prof Tim Benton kicked off the Conference with a sobering overview of our climate and what we might experience in the future.  Considering the extremes of weather we've experienced in the last two years, his presentation was of little comfort!  In summary, more rainfall causing more issues with our soil (great!)  Our soils and farming systems need to be more resilient and more sustainable to deal with these changing weather systems.  What was once a 1 in 50 year event could soon become 1 in 5!  (hold onto your seats!)  Next up was Jean Spencer from Anglian Water, who with 6million customers, needs a constant supply of water.  A 25 year strategy is in  place to continue to reduce individual household water use, using meters, water re-use and recharging aquifers in periods of over supply.  Meurig Raymond spoke about the need to increase wheat supply by 60% in the next 40 years.  Currently the UK is 62% self sufficient but this could drop to less than 50% in the future.  He also stressed the need for more R&D into maintaining production as buying food on the world market may not always be possible in the future. Alan Wilson of Waitrose, spoke about the urbanisation of our customers, moving further from the knowledge of their food supply change, and how water is key to their sustainability plan, which is inextricably link to the soil.   We need to learn from drier countries when it comes to water use technology, Spain for instance has reduced water use in some produce by 50%. 
After a quick lunch it was onto the afternoon sessions, the first one I attended was titled 'Boosting Arable Soil Productivity".  Ron Stobart kicked off with the STAR project.  The project aims to have a long term study into arable rotations, and also the benefits of cover cropping on soil organic matter and fertility.  This theme was prevalent throughout the afternoon sessions that I attended.   Roberts Barnes, a Bedfordshire farmer, spoke about his experience of controlled traffic farming and how this method of farming can reduce costs, increase output as well as earthworms and soil organic matter.  Controlled Traffic Farming is something that I had quickly dismissed before, but maybe there is merit in the system, although potentially difficult to implement where vegetable crops form part of the rotation.
The next session was by Dr Eric Ober from Rothamsted, who enlightened us on the current research about wheat breeding, (right up my Nuffield Street). In 1888 the Rothamsted yield was 2T/Ha which is still the average world wheat yield today.  I also heard that the contribution to yield comes 50% from the genetics and 50% from husbandry.  There is also a need to develop new varieties for maintenance breeding.  This means that a variety looses its ability to yield due to environmental factors reducing its potential year on year, things like changing strains of fungi.
The final session was entitled Soil Biota - Harnessing the Earths Biological Engine and was taken by Karl Ritz (Professor of Soil Biology - Cranfield University) and was all about the interaction between soil microbes, nutrients and organic matter.  There was a practical element of putting the science into practise by Jo Franklin (Nuffield Scholar).  Jo's study took her around the world looking at the status of soils, building fertility and how organic matter can be introduced back into our soils.  This includes the use of livestock and their manure, of compost, cover crops and even treated sewage cake.  All these ingredients added to the soil help keep it aerated, healthy, staying in the field and delivering greater yields!
It really was a cracking lineup of speakers, the topic right on the pulse of the issues we are currently facing and those that we will be facing in the future.  I for one will be signing up to go again next year, if it is held, and I would strongly recommend other farmers to attend as there will be valuable lesions for us all to learn next year.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Sainsbury Lamb Group Meeting

On the 7th November I travelled down to West Wales for one of our Sainsbury's Lamb Development Group meetings.  It was a good trip down, heading to a town called Llandeilo just in time for dinner and a catch up with everyone before the meeting the following day.  As always there was a lot to talk about.  My thanks to Dunbia for putting us up and feeding us very well, care of The Plough (a good spot to stay if you are heading that way!)  In the morning we travelled the short distance to the very smart premises of Dunbia at Llanybydder where we started our meeting.
We heard from Sainsbury's about the slight upturn (5%) in lamb sales which is great news, with a predicted increase of 10% forecast for next year.  Driven by promotions at the moment this is still great news for the sheep industry and turns round a decline that has been prevalent for the past 4 years (at least).
We also had an update from Fiona Lovett from the EBVC on the flock health initiative.  So far she has visited 15 key suppliers of lamb into Sainsbury's.  The aim of the study is to investigate increased animal welfare and business support and also how this can be rolled out the rest of the farmers that supply JS.  In total over 15,000 ewes have been represented on 15 farms so far, not an insignificant number of sheep.  We also had an update on the carbon footprint initiative.  Did you realise that Australian farmers pay a carbon tax on their agriculture, last year it cost them $3.7bn!  As an industry we need to engage more and more with energy saving and monitoring to avoid a similar tax in the UK. We also need to look more closely at renewable energy and energy saving technologies.
We also had a very interesting discussion about the eating quality of UK lamb and what effects it.  This is important to JS as these qualities are what the customer will return for (or not if its poor)  We talked about the sex of the lamb, it's age, what it is fed on, maturation of the carcass, the amount of fat (not surprisingly visually customers buy leaner lamb, but in the taste tests everyone prefers a carcass with more fat, it's where the flavour is!), how it is cooked, and the price of the cut.  It really was a very interesting meeting.  We also spoke about the ratio between Omega 6 and 3 (the healthy ones), lamb has a very healthy ratio of 1:1 whereas pizza has a not so sparkling ratio of 1:17!
After a very delicious lunch of, guess what, lamb, we headed into the factory where the lamb carcasses are processed.  There was a display of the different cuts and packaging available in the different ranges, Basics, Taste the Difference and all the various options of bone in or out and different marinades.  We also looked at the difference in the carcass waste from lambs with different fat grades.  For instance the picture above on the right shows a 4L carcass which has 4Kg of extra lamb fat that needs to be removed.  This is waste to the system and can double the amount of time the lamb takes to be processed in the factory.  As a producer selling lamb onto the processor, in our case Randall Parker Foods, it really brings home the need to get the carcass quality right.  Over finishing (i.e. keeping the animal too long) costs more money, reduces the carbon footprint, eats more feed and potentially costs them more to process with greater inefficiencies further down the supply chain.

Monday, 22 October 2012

To Trim or Not To Trim? That is The Question!

On Thursday the 18th October we hosted a Sainsburys Lamb Development Group, flock health planning session on lameness in sheep.  The UK sheep flock has an estimated 10% lameness in it, which costs the industry over £24 million/year!  This is a huge amount of lost income to sheep farmers so we wanted to know where this money is being lost and what we can do to increase the welfare of our flocks.  A healthy sheep is a happy one that will be be more productive, cost less to run and be more efficient, this will also help our carbon footprint!  So how do lame sheep loose so much money?  A lame sheep is a source of infection that can very quickly spread the bacteria around the rest of the sheep, multiplying the problem especially at housing or any type of gathering.  The ewe is less likely to keep body condition and therefore unlikely to have so many lambs, (there's some of our cash).  Her lambs are likely to be smaller and weaker at birth, as mum can't get so much food due to competition from the other "fitter and healthier" ewes and is also unlikely to have so much and poorer quality colostrum.  Things aren't looking good!  These lambs are less likely to survive (due to poorer quality milk and lower birth weights) and therefore we have less lambs to sell.  The ewe will also cost more in bought in feeds in order to keep her going.

There is lots we can do to reduce some of these problems and make the ewes and lambs more productive.  Catching the ewes at the first sign of lameness is the key.  In a very short space of time a limp can become footrot and with 5 days the hoof can be lifting off, making it painful for the ewe to walk about on and spread the bacteria far and wide for others to pick up especially during wet weather.  Once caught, we should be giving an antibiotic containing penicillin, as this cures the problem, and not trimming the feet!  The overgrown nails (hoof) would have been whipped off by every-one except Phillipa, Dan and Fiona (the vets) who said NO to trimming.  The idea is that trimming risks passing the infection from hoof to hoof and a physical risk of cutting the soft flesh resulting in more discomfort and a longer recovery period.  We're going to get them back in shortly to see whether the NO trim policy has worked.  The sheep should in theory get back on their feet (no pun intended) and by walking on it the excess hoof will fall away, we shall see.
After treatment the details were logged on the scanner so that we can check up on their recovery and if they are repeat offenders then I'm afraid they will have to be culled out.  It really was a great day and a huge thanks to Fiona and Dan from the Evidence Based Veterinary Consultancy who really showed us what we should all be doing.  I think everyone in the room learned something!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Overbury Farms - Now a LEAF Demonstration Farm

Well, what a day and what a week!  We are very proud the be the latest - LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Demonstration Farm.  The day went almost to plan, (the first rule of Integrated Farm Management IFM - Organisation and Planning) with the only thing not quite towing the party line was the weather, but this year, what else could be expected!  We all met up in the village hall at 2.30 for tea and coffee before heading out to plant our commemorative tree, an English Oak in the Oaken Wood field.  After some very kind words by Mark Tufnell, who officially launched us, on the enthusiastic approach that we have to farming, conservation and community engagement Caroline Drummond (LEAF-CEO) continued.  Caroline spoke about how LEAF works together with farmers integrating the many aspects of their business together to promote a sustainable farming future; how we need to balance food and the environment and how we engage with our local and wider communities.  Then I gave a quick introduction into the farm before heading off to the first stop.
In total about 80 visitors loaded up into the trailers to be give a tour of a part of the farm.  Here I was able to talk about our sheep enterprise and how we are managing the grassland to try and make them more productive.  How we are are using selective herbicides and forks to remove weeds from the pasture. Other topics covered included the electronic identification of the sheep and where the lambs go when they are fit for sale.  I forgot to mention about water sustainability as well, with rain water harvesting being used to water the sheep in the winter when they are housed, a slight oversight but I corrected that at the following stop off!

I was able to thank all of our sponsors at his stop were I spoke about the crops that we grow and how we cultivate and look after the soil.  Soil management and fertility is so important and this year is proving very difficult to get right (thanks to the weather). The event could not have happened without the generous support from Chris Tallis  Frontier Ag Molson Coors and Smiths Gore a big thanks all round!  Here we also spoke about precision farming techniques and how we are using them to reduce costs and establish our crops faster, more efficiently and cheaper whilst keeping our soil in a better structure and state of health.
At the final stop we spoke about the conservation projects on the farm and some of the options we're deploying to enhance and encourage habitat and wildlife.  We looked at the beetle bank sided with a pollen and nectar strip on one side and a winter bird food strip on the other.  Caroline finished of by thanking everyone for coming along and braving the drizzle which was never too far away on the day!  Back at the village hall Billy had prepared some pumpkin and spice soup which together with a local selection of cheese rounded the day off perfectly.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Apples and Hops

On the 18th September I was treated, along with other members of the Worcestershire NFU, to look around a very special part of Worcestershire.  The 200 acre farm is owned and run by the Capper family; Mark, Richard and Ali, and they are very specialised in growing apples and hops.  These are two crops that I know very little about, so it was a real eye opener being shown around the farm, slightly in the gloom, but never the less, it was an enlightening evening farm walk.
We started in a Gala, eating apple orchard, shown above.  This orchard was planted in 2003 and is on a fairly traditional scale with 12' between the rows and the trees planted 5' apart; being supported on posts and wires.  The apple trade seems as difficult as many other fruit and veg sectors, with prices slow to respond to the ever increasing costs.  In real terms the apples are worth the same price as they were 20 years ago! The apples are sprayed every 7 days with fungicides in order to keep scab off the skins. (purely cosmetic).  The marketing sizes are precise, picked on size and colour.  These apples must have 50% red colour, be just over 55mm in diameter and have the stalks still attached!   Richard and Ali are aiming for 95% in this class 1 to achieve the highest possible price.  That is a tall order and so weather dependant, this year they will be about 10 days behind their harvest schedule due to the cooler summer weather.
Following on from the Gala orchard we looked at one of the hop fields.  there are only 50 hop growers left in the UK, mainly in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Kent. The plants are grown over the framework of wires and posts.  These annual plants have a life cycle of about 25 years.  The hop plants are manually strung in April and then need constant training up the wires until they get established.  High winds can blow them off the wires and so the process needs to be repeated! The hops are usually ready to harvest in August and different varieties are grown for different aroma's and alpha acids.  The aroma is what gives flavour to the beer and British varieties (there are over 20), are becoming more and more popular with small micro-brewery's, specialising in niche markets rather then mass produced beers. The strung system of growing hops is very labour intensive with up to 14 people being involved in the harvest.  Each of the bines are cut down and laid on on a trailer before being taken back to the farm where the hops are removed form the vine and dried in a kiln, before being packaged up in sacks, once called pockets.
The crop will yield about 8tonnes of fresh material which after drying down to about 10-12% moisture will give a saleable yield of about 1 tonne per acre of hops.  Richard and Ali are also experimenting with growing hedgerow hops, which grow up posts and netting but only to a height of 8'.  These smaller varieties still have the marvellous aroma characteristics but can be harvested by machine, required less fungicides therefore vastly reducing the costs of growing the crop.  The finished crop is stored, before it is sold in the bale.  the longer it's stored the less aromatic it is, so it is important to sell the crop fairly soon after harvest.  Other merchants can then freeze dry or vac pack the hops to retain the aroma for longer.

Friday, 14 September 2012

We Are Now a LEAF Demonstration Farm!

We are delighted to announce that we have been selected to become the latest LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Demonstration Farm.  We are joining a very select group of 40 farms around the country and we're very proud to be involved with LEAF at this level, showing our commitment to sustainable farming practicies.  Our official launch date is the 11th October but with invitations arriving as I write, I thought a wider announcement to Farmer Jake followers would be appropriate.
What does being a LEAF Demonstartion Farm (LDF) involve? Well it gives us a perfect opportunity to communicate with our farm visitors and local groups in a structured way how we manage and look after our farmland. 
We can demonstrate the long term vision we have for producing sustainable crops and livestock.  We will welcome more people onto our farm to talk about how we farm in conjunction with the 9 principles of Integrated Farm Management and what we are doing to increase the biodiversity on our farm.  Let's not forget though, that we are also here, providing all of this diverse enviornment, in addition to producing food for you and your neighbours to eat.  With food shortages around the world, the pressure for increased production from our limited land base supply will be great.  We have to manage that pressure while still increasing the benefits to the environment in which we live and work. It's by using the IFM principles we can achieve both of these objectives.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Sunsetting on Harvest

Well harvest was finally wrapped up on Sunday 9th September this year in a very dusty crop of wheat.  The final crops we harvested were very poor yielding with low grain weights that disappointed us all.  There were plenty of ears there but very little grain within and what grain was there didn't fill very well.  I think it was a mixture of lots of different causes this year from the lack of sunlight through the final growing part of the year (June-July); also the very high levels of disease that have plagued the crops though a high rainfall year.  Looking back we were finding septoria in the crop coming through the winter, (which was fairly mid), so there was plenty of innoculum within the crop and then even with a robust fungicide strategy control was poor, with the prolonged wet period.
I guess there were a few high lights to harvest and what it has demonstrated to me is the need to spread the risks around by having different soil types and a proper rotation which allows spring and winter cropping.  The spring barley crops have done well and so far all has been accepted by Molson Coors and the germination has remained good, even with a late harvest.  The oilseed rape has yielded very well considering the year which is encouraging.  I also think that we shouldn't take this year in isolation from a cultivations, cropping or crop protection angle.  I know climate change will through a few curve balls for us to deal with in the future but wouldn't a nice easy harvest make a pleasant change?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Harvest Progress

Well we're nearly half way through the harvest this year and its been a very catchy time.  We manage to harvest for a day here and half a day there constantly being stopped by heavy showers which is very frustrating!  On the positive side all of the Oilseed rape and Winter Barley has been harvested in good condition.  All of the barley has been shipped, either to the maltings at Burton on Trent or into a seed plant for dressing before being sold out to the farmers to plant later this year.  Winter barley yields have been acceptable considering the year, it was very dry through the start of the season then constantly wet from May onwards, when sunshine was needed.  As a result the grains were quite small and light, which lost some yield but the germination was fine and the crop came in dry.  The oilseed rape crop was variable but I think we'll end up just above our average yield although I don't know what the oil levels are like within the seed which has an impact on the value of the crop.  The pods did seem fairly small this year which was disappointing but again not unsurprising considering the lack of summer this year!
So it is now on wards with the wheat harvest.  Early indications are a low grain weight but not a disaster and high proteins as a result.  It's too early to say any thing about the grain yield but fingers crossed we can all have a 10 day spell of good weather to gather the crop in the best conditions with low harvesting and drying costs.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Yellow Hammer Heaven

Earlier in June John Clarke was out looking at the stewardship margins that have been left to self seed this year with arable wild flowers.  In addition to a host of very interesting species including meadow buttercup, field and long headed poppy, white campion, venus looking glass, scented mayweed, pineapple weed, field gromwell and cornflowers he also stumbled (almost) on a Yellow Hammer Nest.  It is quite rare for these little birds to nest on the ground, especially adjacent to a bridleway that is heavily trafficked with walkers and their roaming dogs!  It was a real treat to have established an area for wildlife and for them to actually use it!  I guess they felt secure in the thick wild flower cover and there must have been an abundance of food.  Even this summer there were lots of insects feeding on the wild flowers, themselves being a taste snack for the farmland birds in the area.
This is where the nest was and as you can see it was a really lucky find.  The nest wasn't disturbed and hopefully the eggs would have hatched.  Judging by the large numbers of Yellow Hammers there this morning, the population in this small part of England is turning more yellow, if not Gold!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Harvest Rolls Around Again!

Yesterday we started combining!  It was 9 days later than last year but a much more traditional start date for us on the winter barley.  It is usually a toss up between barley or rape but this year the barley gets the nod and gets combined first.  We started with the hybrid barley for seed, a variety called Bamboo, grown under contract to Syngenta.  The crop is laid out in the field with a male strip around the boundary to act as a pollen buffer and with 6% inclusion of male in the centre (female) part of the field to actually pollinate the crop.  It is very critical for us to have good weather, dry and windy, during pollination, which occurred at the start of June this year when the weather wasn't too bad, so the seed set and therefore yield will hopefully be OK.  We still have to calibrate the combine yield monitor which can then give us an accurate harvested yield.
Following on from the Bamboo we started on the Cassata malting barley, grown under contract with Molson Coors (then into Carling and Worthington).  The very warm weather has really ripped the crop quickly and the grain has a moisture content of about 12.5%, much less than the 16% moisture, we can move it at.  This is good news for us as we don't have the dry the crop, burning expensive gas oil.  On the down side it makes the crop vulnerable to cracking and splitting when being harvested, so every care is taken not to thrash the straw too hard, damaging the germination of the grain.  If it won't germinate then it can't be used for malting so it has to go as animal feed.  Samples were taken this afternoon and set of for analysis, we should know the results in the morning, so fingers crossed.  If you want to keep up to date with this years harvest do follow on you tube No1FarmerJake

Friday, 22 June 2012

Jealotts Hill Visit

I had a really great day at Syngenta 's research centre yesterday at Jealotts Hill.  The farm is a LEAF Demonstration Farm as well so we had a lot in common.  It was the science though that I found really interesting and the years of testing and assessing all of the products that come to market, from herbicides to fungicides.  In fact it can take about 10 years for an active ingredient to be found, tested, made into product, assess, registered, marketed and then finally used in a sprayer.  The process starts in the the picture above after between 700-1000 compounds are tested every week and the results are completely unknown.  If they show some control of sensitive weeds in this case then they will be put into a herbicide program to see if they can be developed.  Obviously the current issue for UK farmers is the control of difficult or resistant blackgrass to which there is no magic bullet waiting round the corner I'm afraid.  Onwards with the rotational and cultural control for the time being!
The next area of testing and development is biokinetics where the team discover what happens after the product has attached itself to the leaf.  Things like how it redistributes itself, how much sticks on, is it water soluble, how persistent is it, what's its photostability (how stable is it in sunlight) and so on, As products are identified and formulated they are tested in this great rain tower, where between 10mm and 40mm of rain/hr can be applied to see how the product and active ingredient remain on the plant.  Here, for demonstration purposes, there was soya, turf, wheat, banana's, and cucumber, all with different leaf characteristics, which all interacted with the active ingredients depending on the size, shape and angle.
We also had a look at the actual application testing methods.  How does it behave in a sprayer? Does it stick to the sides, sink to the bottom, will it come out of the nozzle?  Here the water is being sprayed through a Defy nozzle (left) and a low drift nozzle (right) to demonstrate the process and the droplets are very different in size and characteristics, with a much coarser droplet from the low drift nozzle.
It really was a great opportunity to see the development and effort that goes into our agricultural pesticides and also good to know how rigorous the testing is before the products are even sent to be registered.  As a user of many different products its good to know the level of dedication and science behind the products.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Open Farm Sunday (Part 1)

Our Open farm Sunday event was held on the 17th June this year and we welcomed over 160 people.  Everybody met up next to the combine and grain trailer ready to be loaded onto our tractors and trailers to begin their 1.5 hour trip to discover where their food comes from.  The first stop, (not food related) was with Simon Sweeting at Overbury Stallions.
Simon gave us all a quick over view of the stud business and how it integrates with  the farm and the estate.  Simon talked about the 5 stallions here at the stud, how the seasons work and also how the sheep help to manage the grassland through the winter time.
Next was my turn to talk about the crops that we grow on the farm.  I had some examples of wheat, barley, beans, oilseed rape and potatoes growing in the background.  We talked about rotations and why it is necessary to grow different crops in the fields rather than one crop year after year.  We also talked about irrigation and how we measure and use water on the crop.

Open Farm Sunday (Part 2)

Here's Mary Poppins (AKA William Fox) from Frontier Agriculture standing out in the rain talking about what happens to our crops after they leave the farm.  He spoke about the wheat going off to be milled and turned into flour for biscuits or bread, we talked about the oilseed rape being ground up and pressed to extract the oil to be used in bio diesel or to provide vegetable oils.  Most of all we enjoyed talking about the malting barley that we sell, as part of the Molson Coors Growers Group, that gets malted and brewed into Carling beer.
Next up was Dominic Swainson from Agrii who introduced our 36m Bateman sprayer and discussed how we apply chemicals to the fields, from the surveying (crop walking) and trapping that we do, to writing the prescription and getting the chemicals or fertiliser applied.  We talked about the GPS variable rate application of fertiliser and steps we take to reduce the impact of the chemicals on the environment.  Things like nozzle selection, sprayer testing and operator Continual Personal Development.
Finally the groups were given the opportunity to meet up with Stuart Veall (syngenta) and Jodey and Jo from the  Centre for Ecology and Hydrology who were taking part in the national pollinator survey.  The groups had 5 minutes to survey the crop and a stewardship pollen and nectar margin to see what flies, beetles, butterflies and bumble bees we could find.  Considering the weather, heavy showers on and off all day, we found some really great pollinators including about 5 species of bumble bees!

I really would like to take this opportunity to thank every one who helped out for this years Open Farm Sunday.  Our speakers for their time and energy, the farm staff for setting out the machinery and driving the tractors and the office team, headed up by Howard, for sorting all of the promotional material, signs and e-mails.  Thanks also to the local press and radio for helping with the publicity making this years event one of the best yet.  I guess it wouldn't have happened with out the visitors actually making the effort to come out and hear what we all had to say so a big thanks to you too.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Wychall School Trial Operation Pollinator

We had a great day today entertaining year 4 children from Wychall Primary School from Birmingham.  We started the day, after a loo stop, with a session up on the hill trying to spot pollinators.  The weather, I'll be honest has not been great over the past few weeks, so my expectations were low but we were very pleasantly surprised!  We split the group of 36 into 6 group and we surveyed 3 different habitats.  There was a permanent grass field, a pollen and nectar mix (with bird food) and a crop of Oilseed rape.  My thoughts were to see which pollinators we actually had on the farm having never really stopped and looked at them before.  On Sunday we are taking part in LEAF's Open Farm Sunday event and after the farm tour people are being offered the chance to go and do a pollinator survey in some stewardship mixes, crops and orchards to see what we can find in the great British farmland.
Considering the weather was cold and wet we found lots and lots of grasshoppers (far too many to count), we found soldier beetles and ladybirds in their dozens and also lots of bumblebees.  Surprisingly we found the largest population of bumble bees in the crop of oilseed where there had been some winter pigeon predation and the crop was still flowering.  There were soldier beetles everywhere and lots of moths and hundreds of flies emerging from the grassland so we counted them as well!  If you want to take part in our pollinator survey we still have room on he 10.30, 12.00 and 14.00 tractor rides, (survey after the ride for 30 mins or so) or have a look on the Open Farm Sunday website for a location nearer to you that is taking part.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

View From The Margins - by my friend John Clarke

John Clarke who has been helping with the conservation projects at Overbury is the first and maybe only guest blog writter to appear on Farmer Jake's blog.  What he has to say is very inspirational and personally gratifying.  To know that we as farmers can play a really big positive role in our countryside, wildlife and biodiversity.  It's a message we have to share to the wider audience about what is great about British farming, growing food and expanding the wildlife we share our fields with.

As a Conservation Advisor, over the past few years I’ve been working closely with Jake Freestone, offering ideas for wildlife conservation and then monitoring the effect on wildlife. During that time Overbury Farms has gone through an exciting period of change as Government schemes have focused increasingly on wildlife conservation.

It is particularly rewarding as an advisor to see ideas and schemes bearing fruit and for me one of the most exciting aspects concerns field margins. There are a number of options for improving the wildlife value of this habitat – from putting them down to grass, planting a ‘meadow mixture’ of wildflowers and grasses, cultivating and planting with the main crop but leaving the margins unsprayed, planting them with a wild bird seed mixture – or a game crop – or just cultivating and leaving unplanted.

I love walking these margins, which often occur alongside footpaths, and recording all the birds, plants, butterflies – and many other forms of wildlife. I and other advisors love to see a situation where a range of these habitats are connected and planned to link with each other and a range of different wildlife habitats.
 The aerial picture taken by Andrew John shows a good example of what is possible. Running across the area is an old embankment. With its rough grassland top, scrubby sides, wet ditches, scattered trees and some bare ground along the track it is a wildlife oasis in itself. However, its value has been increased hugely by what Jake has created around it. A number of hedges converge on the area and these are being managed sympathetically for wildlife and make perfect wildlife corridors between here and other sites. You can see that alongside the hedges there are grass strips and then out from them are several large cultivated strips. Some of these are sown with wild bird feed mixtures, some as part of the crop but unsprayed and some as game crops. Note the small, brown patches in the cornfields. They are left unplanted in order to attract Skylark to nest there or in the adjacent crop. In the top of the picture there is a small hay meadow.
Imagine other mosaics of wildlife habitats, varying in content and type, stretching from the top of Bredon Hill to the low-lying land below. Well, that is what we have got here.

How do we know that it is working? Well, in simple terms: there are literally dozens of pairs of Skylark breeding across the farm, Lapwing nest in several areas while the hedgerows support breeding Yellowhammer, Linnet and Whitethroat. In the margins the old-fashioned cornfield wildflowers are making a comeback. In some margins we are trialling the introduction of rarer wildflowers. If you are walking on the hill in June listen out for the Skylark – and Meadow Pipit – and look out for unusual poppies, pansies, Night-flowering Catchfly (a campion) and perhaps the odd Cornflower. There are bees and butterflies feeding on flowers in both the arable and grass margins. We have even recorded Corn Bunting and Yellow Wagtail in these new habitats – rare breeding birds which are slowly being attracted back to the area.

How do I feel about the project? When I see the results of all that planning and preparation it is hugely satisfying. To make a comparison: I have often started what I hoped would be a great watercolour painting – but it never was! However, I now know what it would have felt like had I managed it. Farming for wildlife is possible and is much preferred to restricting nature conservation to a few Nature Reserves – isolated and possibly fragile. Here at Overbury, wildlife is managed on a landscape scale and I am proud to have been part of such a great project. Each time that I go out to survey the farm I find something new and exciting. I hope that governments continue to encourage Jake and others to support wildlife in a big way. It is perhaps regrettable that many of us know of these schemes but very few are aware of and enjoy what they can achieve.
John Clarke

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Grain To Glass

On June 26th 8 intrepid novice cyclists are setting off from the Shobnal Maltings (Burton-upon-Trent) in order to raise money for the Molson Coors Growers Group charity, The Prince's Countryside Fund.  Our aim is to raise awareness of the supply chain from farm to maltings to brewery to customer.  Our barley, (as those followers of this blog know) goes to Molon Coors as part of the growers group.  This group, of over 90 farmers, aim to supply 30,000 tonnes of British barley into famous brands such as Carling, where they use 100% British barley for the brewing process.
The group is made up of 4 farmers, (Mark Blakeway, James Cox, Andy Roberts and me), two staff from Molson Coors (Jerry Dyson and Debbie Read), Jon Duffy from Frontier and David Hall from the EFFP 
We are funding the whole operation ourselves so every penny that you are able to give will be donated to the charity.  I have been training fairly hard, managing about 45 miles on my longest ride, about half of the actual daily ride on the longest two days.  The route will take us over 180 miles from start to finish and we will be stopping off along the way collecting, hops and barley to present to the master brewer at Molson's brewery in Alton (Hamphire) sometime on the 28th June.
If you feel you can sponsor us then please use the Virgin Money Giving  link to get to our sponsorship page.
many thanks in advance and we'll keep you posted on twitter using the hashtag #GraintoGlass
Hopefully there will be a cold Carling waiting for us in Alton when we complete the ride!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Shooting Wildlife

Over the last couple of days I have carrying my camera around to try and capture some of the wildlife that I am seeing around the farm at the moment. This lovely spell of warm weather is really bringing the wildlife out to enjoy it as much as I am. The picture (above) about shows 7 Brown Hares (BAP Species) adults and young all enjoying the morning sunshine on a recently mowed pollen and nectar mix. The area measures 0.70 Ha and is really crammed with wildlife. The hares were enjoying the shelter of the Oilseed Rape should any predators pass by.
Up on the top of Bredon Hill our resident herd of Fallow Deer are also basking in the sunshine. These are young males that gather together at this time of year. This field hasn't been planted yet as it is part of the hand picked peas operation and will be planted in June.

This little guy was probably the best find of the day (and his 3 other siblings). The Lapwing parents were getting very cross with me as I sneaked up to take the picture of a young Lapwing chick foraging for insects in a flooded part of a wheat field. It's an area of very poor drainage and under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme I have plans to put a pond here but I might just excavate the scrape more to provide lots of wet feeding grounds for the next generations of lapwings.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Phantom of The Opera

Every now and again mother nature throws up some interesting quirks in any population. This is one of my favourites! She's a Texel cross North Country Mule with some very strange markings indeed. She certainly stands out when driving through the park. She's one of a twin so it might be that we keep her as one of the flocks replacements to breed from in the future, who knows what patterns her offspring might have on them?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 11 May 2012

Arable Bird Survey

Today I managed to fit in a couple of hours walking round one of our survey areas on the farm with John Clarke. John has been helping me with our bird surveys since 2004 and we try and walk set routes three times a year to monitor and record the bird species that we find. Today the skylarks were out in great numbers singing like mad while hovering, seemingly effortlessly, in the sky, even on a chilly windy morning. It was a real pleasure to actually see the benefits of the conservation work we are doing coming to reality. There were skylarks on our creation of species rich grassland areas, landing in and taking off from the skylark plots (good news really) and also using the unplanted nesting plots to land on and scurry into the crop for cover. In total we spotted over 20 breeding pairs on their territories, while walking the small survey area. Great news and hopefully a good sign to come for our Higher Level stewardship surveys later in the year. We weren't just just skylark spotting we also spotted Brown hares (4), fallow deer (40 -eating my wheat!) wheatears (2), pipit's (6) and Linnets (12), all good as some of these are BAP species.
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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Nuffield Conference 'Fertiliser For The Future'

On Thursday 19th April I had a really interesting trip up to Harper Adams University College to listen to the Nuffield 'Fertilisers for the Future' Conference.  Its a subject that I feel, we as an industry, have to get to grips with and try and use our existing energy hungry sources of fertiliser more efficiently.  There were four great speakers with a very varied choice of subjects all of which I found very interesting.
First up was Nik Johnson (JSE-Systems Ltd) who gave us a brief overview of the Phosphorus perspective.  I didn't realise that Morocco, China and Iraq have 75% of the worlds phosphate supply and with current political unrest around the world, could conceivably make this a very scare nutrient to western arable farmers.  Most of the phosphate is also shifting East to West in the form of grain and straw to livestock enterprises, not just in the UK but around the world.  Basically Nik was saying that we need to get the phosphate reclaimed form other sources and stop wasting what we have in our soils, through soil run-off, taking the nutrient away locked onto soil particles. In the future we have to understand how P works in different soils, the interaction of cultivation, organic matter and rotations all have a part to play.  Fascinating stuff and good to know that at Overbury we're heading in the right direction with our increased use of organic matter in the arable rotation.
Mark Tucker (Yara - the largest N fertiliser manufacturer in the world) followed with the Nitrogen story. Nitrogen has such an important role to play in our crops and our environment as 50% of applied nitrogen ends up in the environment (leaching and volatilisation), which is expensive and damaging.  Mark talked about how we can reduce our reliance on manufactured nitrogen through rotations, cover cropping, green manures and livestock, a tall order to supply our needs but we need to do what we can.  These tactics can help build the soils natural fertility and help retain more of the nutrients we apply.  Should we be looking at genetically modified crops that are more efficient at harvesting nitrogen fertilisers therefore reducing the levels lost to the environment?  We need to look at the science for the answers.
The theme of soil fertility continued after lunch with Jo Franklin talking about nutrients, organic matter and bugs (NOB's) which linked is so well to the earlier presentations.  The soil is such a complex living thing that is delicate and needs to be looked after to have any chance of sustainable agriculture in the future. Clive Blacker finished the presentations with an overview of precision farming, which those of you who follow my blog will know that's right up my street.
In summary the event has raised more questions than answers and given me some things to think about here on the farm.  I'm sure some of those thoughts and trials will come forward in future blogs.