Every week we follow the ups and downs of farmers around the UK.
Russell is farm manager for John Sheard Farms and a partner in the family farm of D.J. Tebbit, responsible for a total of 995 hectares (2,457 acres), with land crossing into Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Cropping is split between winter wheat grown for seed, milling and feed, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, spring barley, spring beans and spring oats. Russell is an AHDB monitor farmer and a 2014 Nuffield Scholar.
It has been wet, wet, wet. No, not the crooning, ballad-writing band from the 1990s who seemed top the charts for an eternity, but rather the current ground and weather conditions.
We have had enough rain for the meantime. Drain outlets flowing full are testimony to that fact, and although spring work looks some way off I would rather have it wet at a time of year when land work is highly unlikely anyway. However, it presents a good opportunity to assess areas which require attention to drainage and soil structure.
There can be little doubt change is in the air for the UK arable sector, both in the short- and long-term. There has been a lot of talk about Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s speech at the Oxford Farming Conference, outlining changes we can possibly expect to see as the farm support system moves away from production to a more environmental focus.
It will, if not already, bring in to question marginal areas of land and fields which will not be viable to grow crops on. The Mid-Tier Scheme allows you to scrutinise underperforming areas and introduce a stewardship option which will probably be more profitable than a poor crop, while enhancing the environmental features on-farm.
The landscape of agronomy is another changing area. The role of the agronomist is evolving from weeds, diseases, bugs and drugs to incorporate a greater understanding of soil biology and what makes soil tick. A number of firms are getting heavily focused on soils and generating more in depth analysis.
I was recently asked about my thoughts on land rents in the future farming landscape. Rightly or wrongly, I think large areas may be managed, but potentially a reasonable chunk of this area will not be in production because of economics and ludicrous land rents should be a thing of the past.
This was rebuffed by a reply ‘there will always be someone out there willing to pay the high rents’. I honestly do not think this will be the case, and I have never been able to make my calculator make high rents for combinable crop land stack up.
However, my brain was really tested helping my son prepare for a school entrance exam with mock 11+ type questions. I reckon I might just about be able to make a better fist of it now than when I was 10.