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In your Field: Russell McKenzie - 'Where is the next generation of farm staff going to come from?'

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.

I am not going to mention the weather in this column for once.

 

Workload on-farm has calmed down and we are just in the process of finishing T2 flag leaf sprays, the earlier robust T1 programme has done a decent job and the bulk of crops have clean leaves to leaf 4.

 

We host a number of trials on-farm, one of the largest ones being with BASF with a large fungicide and 32 variety wheat trial. When I was part of the monitor farm programme I asked AHDB if we could host a Recommended List (RL) trial as there was not one local enough and I felt it was a great opportunity, with the numbers attending, to find out what suited local conditions.

 

Unfortunately, the interest was not reciprocal and I would have had more chance of my hair growing back than an RL trial being placed on-farm.

 

This was where BASF stepped up and it is now our second year hosting a variety trial. To me, this level of local information is absolutely priceless, seeing what varieties perform well on our land and also getting a proper glimpse of what starts to crack in untreated and high disease pressure conditions.

 

Certainly, walking through the plots this week there are some usual suspects looking a bit untidy and it is fun to treat it as a blind tasting event when you walk through the plots without looking at the variety marks first.

 

One worrying theme which seems to have cropped up in recent weeks is the number of farmers being let down by harvest staff who have accepted a position and then changed their mind.

 

Plenty of these are excellent farms as well and I can only think there are a number of people applying and accepting positions until they find one they like the sound of better. Whatever happened to loyalty? This is a smaller industry than some may think and word can soon go round.

 

It has certainly changed since my day when you were almost fighting to get the best harvest jobs because of the numbers applying and it is certainly a concern going forward with staff succession, where is the next generation going to come from?

 

My daughter cannot wait to be involved with harvest, although my wife, with years of corn carting experience, will be better placed than me to do the instructing, apparently.


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