Healthy soils benefiting from pig manure, a strong core business, an eye to new opportunities and first class environmental stewardship, characterise the arable business of Yorkshire Wolds-based JSR Farming Group.
An integrated farming system based on pig production and arable has long been practised by JSR Farming Group since it was founded in the 1950s.
At the heart of the 4,100ha (10,100-acre) enterprise, run from Southburn, Driffield, East Yorkshire, is 2,100ha (5,187 acres) of wheat and barley grown to meet the feed and bedding requirements of JSR Pig Production, which markets 160,000 pigs a year. But there is also growing demand for seed potatoes and vining peas produced by the £37m turnover family business.
Philip Huxtable, director at JSR Arable, says the farm operates a six-year rotation. Oilseed rape is grown in year one, followed by wheat in years two and three. “Year four is a break – either pulses or potatoes, year five is first wheat and year six, barley, providing an early entry for OSR.
“The principle aim is to provide large quantities of feed wheat and barley to feed to pigs.”
Arable general manager Charlie Parker says cereal drilling is carried out between early September and late October. “With this drilling window we need a progression of varieties and attributes to fill the early, main and late drilling slots.”
Recent wheat varieties grown include Revelation, Costello, Evolution, Relay, Crispin, Siskin and Belepi in the late drilling slot. Barley varieties include six-row hybrid - Bazooka, six-row conventional – Funky, two-row Cassia, Glacier and Infinity.
Oilseed rape is drilled in mid-August, with timely drilling important to keep on top of flea beetle as the Yorkshire Wolds is somewhat of a hotspot, says Mr Huxtable. “All rape is hybrid – primarily Extrovert. We need vigour to combat flea beetle and only grow rape after winter barley to get early entry. Our starter fertiliser is pig slurry which gives moisture and nutrients to get it going. If you drill late after wheat into a dry seedbed you can forget it.”
Separated slurry and FYM from the pig enterprise is an important source of nutrients for JSR Arable, says Mr Huxtable. “Slurry is applied as liquid fertiliser to growing crops, particularly in spring. We try to maximise nutrition from it and maximise cost savings. We buy very little P and K outside muck and slurry. We buy liquid N from Yara for precision application.”
The N content of slurry is tested as it comes out of the boom, he adds. “We test every time we apply so we can adjust application rate. We use it as scientifically as we can.”
As well as applications to the growing crop, slurry is applied after harvest twice in the rotation and FYM, once. “We have very fertile, healthy soils, conducive to high yields,” says Mr Huxtable.
First wheats are budgeted at 10t/ha (4t/acre), second wheats 9t/ha (3.6t/acre), winter barley, 8.5t/ha (3.4t/acre) and OSR, 4.25t/ha (1.7t/acre), he adds.
This harvest, first wheats yielded particularly well, second wheats were more variable and OSR and barley were average, according to Mr Parker. “Barley started well but lost some of its yield to the weather.”
Precision farming methods are pursued at JSR, which has its own RTK guidance mast, explains Mr Parker. “Everything is drilled using RTK – we have a reduced traffic system – tramlines are in the same place every year. We don’t have fully controlled traffic because of potatoes, straw, slurry and vining peas where it would be hard to control and police.”
Sprayers have auto-section control which saves cost and Yara N sensors are used. Most soil is scanned through Soyl and ground truthed for P and K, magnesium and pH, says Mr Parker. “Every four years the soil is tested and ground truthed and the indices updated. We variably apply P and K, putting it where it is needed most. We are also looking at variable rate drilling.”
The undulating nature of the Yorkshire Wolds, with slopes prone to nutrient leaching and lower sections more nutrient dense allow it to benefit from variable rate applications, using science and taking away human error, adds Mr Huxtable.
JSR Farming is also keen to show how it combines profitable farming with care for the environment and has been a LEAF demonstration farm since 2001, he says. “We have hosted visitors to Open Farm Sunday in the last few years and welcome parties throughout the year including other farmers, ancillary agricultural industries, politicians and school children – showing the general public what goes on in safe food production.
“We have a network of environmental features – hedges, trees, grass margins, beetle banks, pollen and nectar mixes and wild bird seed mixes.”
Monitoring of species is also done on the farm by organisations including RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, says Mr Huxtable. “Groups come regularly every few months. They can monitor what they like but we want to hear the results so we can keep tabs on whether bird species are increasing or decreasing, and if so, why?”
Of the 18 full-time staff working at JSR Arable, one is dedicated to environmental stewardship.
Looking ahead, Mr Huxtable is conscious environmental stewardship may play a larger role after Brexit. “We have a number of HLS and ELS schemes running. One farm is in CSS higher tier. One or two farms have come out of HLS and ELS – we are continuing, but on a voluntary basis while we see what happens.
“Brexit brings concerns. We can see land values starting to fall. Where are subsidies going? We can be pretty sure they’re not going up.”
Mr Parker adds: “We will make sensible investments where we need to in men and training and we need reliable, good quality machinery to enable us to be efficient and competitive.”
The potato seed multiplication business at JSR, which goes back more than 50 years, has grown in recent years.
Mr Huxtable says: “We grow around 200ha of potatoes. Five to seven years ago we increased the seed percentage. Ten years ago we were heavily into growing processing potatoes but now we just concentrate on seed and a little bit of ware. We have invested heavily in grading facilities and storage.”
To minimise disease and pest pressure, seed potatoes are planted on virgin land or one year in 12 in the rotation. With harvesting from late August, there is also less likelihood of soil damage associated with later lifting, says Mr Huxtable. “Anything we can do to move away from damaging soil structure is good news.
“The Yorkshire Wolds has developed a good reputation for seed potatoes. We multiply what the market wants, growing seed for individual farmers and also multiplying for various seed houses including HZPC, IPM and Meijer.
Mr Parker adds: “The nice thing about the seed potato enterprise is we are getting new customers and could work on a brand, perhaps.”
CEO Tim Rymer
4,100ha (10,100 acres) across 15 sites in East Yorkshire
Altitude – varies from 0-900ft (0-274m)
Soil types: Yorkshire Wolds over chalk, sandy clay loams, sandy, gravel, Holderness series boulder clay
Winter wheat: 1,600ha (3,952 acres) – feed for JSR Pig Production
Winter barley: 500ha (1,235 acres) – feed for JSR Pig Production
Winter oilseed rape: 500ha (1,235 acres) – marketed with a LEAF Marque premium
Potatoes: 200ha (494 acres) of which 90 per cent produced for high health seed
Pulses: 350ha (864 acres) including vining peas – members of Swaythorpe Growers which supplies peas for its own Yorkshire Peas brand. Spring beans grown on farms not suitable for viners.
Rest of land area includes permanent grassland for Stabiliser suckler herd, willow for woodchip, buildings for pig production, crop storage etc, environmental areas, reservoirs and roads.