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Talking Arable with Andrew Robinson: Off to a good start


The beans are finally being harvested after a 10-day gap due to showers

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It was July 14 when Sam got the combine rolling into the contract-farmed winter barley Cassia, producing the highest ever yield, so we were off to a good start.


Oilseed rape has been a pleasant surprise, with the ES Alegria yielding 29% more than last year on the light land farm, and the Extrovert 11% on the heavy land here at Toddington; although not a record year for rape, a fair result given the very wet winter.


KWS Glacier at our farm at Lidlington exceeded expectations, yielding more than 40% more than last year, at 10.2t/ha, plus an enormous amount of straw, which will add to income from this crop.


The wheat harvest I would describe as very frustrating, with the constant showers making it a stop-start affair. However we did manage to finish the wheat on August 24, which is early for us. Yields were up on last year by 12%, so overall a pleasing result. Again the contract farm did well off some light land, with some 82kg/hl JB Diego averaging just under 12t/ha and KWS Leeds at Lidlington gave us 37% more than last year.


Our Openfield wheat trial was harvested on August 7. The reasoning behind this trial being that I have always wondered if we had been missing out by growing just quality wheats (Group 1 and 3 mainly), as opposed to barn filling group 4s. In the 0.5ha trial plots were

Group 1, 2 and 4s and the result was not what we expected and, if I am being truthful, I only picked one out of the top tree for yield. The range was from 11.49-15.13t/ha, with Gallant being top of the class.


To summarise the results, milling wheats averaged 13.30t/ha and feed wheats averaged 13.61t/ha, with the result being a higher gross margin on the milling wheats by some £258 per hectare. All plots had the same treatment including below optimum nitrogen for milling crops.

Quality wheats

Although not a replicated trial, I feel suitably justified in continuing with our policy to grow quality wheats. Evolution among the Group 4s looked good all the way through and did 14.95t/ha, Gallant at 15.13t/ha, 304 hagberg, only 11.6% protein, but with that yield and only 230kg of nitrogen a good result.


The two which set the bar high were Skyfall, which looked very average but produced 14.53t/ha, 321 hagberg and 12.0% protein and top of the tree for gross margin, while Crusoe at 14.55t/ha, 285 hagberg, 13.0% protein, from 230kg of nitrogen, was simply amazing.


As I write, the beans are finally being harvested after a 10-day gap due to showers. It is too early to tell the yield yet, but they are not looking very good.


We started drilling rape on August 20 with Paul on the 8m Vaderstad and Tom (a student returning for his fourth year) following with the new 16m set of rolls. They soon covered the ground, with 340ha completed by early afternoon on August 24, just before 23mm of rain on Bank Holiday Monday. All we need to do now is keep the slugs and flea beetle away and all will be well.


Mole ploughing has been going on in earnest; although a relatively slow and costly job, it is a very important part of soil management and this year’s moist soil conditions have meant perfect conditions at Toddington.


The 2014 harvest and cultivation team have once again done a fantastic job, so thanks to Paul, Sam and the four students, Tom, Dave, Fergus and Ben. The latter two will be back at Harper Adams by the time you read this, with the other two heading to New Zealand to continue their learning experiences.

  • Andrew Robinson is farms manager at Heathcote Farms, Bedfordshire. He is a former winner of the nabim/HGCA Milling Wheat Challenge.
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