The Agronomy at Lackham centres on a long-term, sound but flexible rotation with the aim of maximising the areas of highest margin crops namely Winter Wheat and WOSR. Maize is an essential part of the Dairy ration and incorporates conveniently into the rotation on some soil types. On heavier more difficult fields where maize could present a harvesting problem, Winter or Spring Beans have been employed and as a pulse crop provide a complete disease break from other crops and 'fix' nitrogen for part of the rotation. Grass leys and Stubble Turnips are also incorporated into the arable rotation and there are areas suitable only as Permanent Pasture. Being a 'teaching establishment' unusual crops are tried out for student interest and Red Wheat has been grown in 08/09. In recent years the field/cropping has been blocked for more efficient planning and management of labour and machinery, especially important at peak times.
A well planned rotation should be able to maintain itself whilst allowing for unforeseen requirements and area changes. These changes are largely to accommodate livestock requirements.
As well as preventing diseases such as Take-all in cereals and Sclerotinia in OSR/pulses, a sound rotation aids cultural weed control. The loss of long established and valuable agrochemicals such as Trifluralin and the increasing pressure on expensive products like Atlantis means that cultural techniques will become increasingly important. Finally long term use of inputs can be planned and targeted at the most effective point in the rotation. These inputs include for example Roundup pre-harvest in OSR, organic manures prior to maize and lime as grass is ploughed out.
Agronomic advice is provided by John Clark of Agronomy One and is independent from commercial purchasing. Arable inputs are purchased through Crop Advisors, an independent buying group.
267 hectares are rented on a farm business tenancy, enabling the farm to grow a wider range of crops. The cropping plan shows the hectares grown for each crop here.
Winter Wheat - Oilseed Rape - Winter Wheat - Winter Beans - Winter Wheat - (Stubble turnips) - Maize - Winter Wheat.
Winter Wheat - IRG - IRG- Winter Wheat - Maize - Winter Wheat - (Stubble Turnips) - Spring Beans - Winter Wheat.
Winter Wheat is the main crop followed by break crops which are grown to break the disease cycle and grow crops fed to the livestock, in addition to maintaining soil structure and fertility.
Wheat is the main crop because it has the highest gross margin of the arable crops. There are 4 classes of wheat, Milling, second grade milling and biscuit, biscuit potential and feed, the farm grow varieties from class 3 and 4 varieties (biscuit or feed) and chooses the best varieties for disease resistance from these categories. Milling wheat (group 1 & 2) has been grown but with little success.
Oilseed Rape follows wheat drilled into min-till cultivations in early September, a good establishment is vital heading into the winter because the crop is affected by weed challenge. But the other main threats are slugs and pigeons.
Winter Beans can be ploughed in as a sowing method but our preferred option is to drill them into a good depth of soil in October; the gross margins on beans are variable however with a good yield and reasonable price they nearly match Oilseed rape.
Spring Beans are grown following a catch crop so making best use of the land over winter, generally on the lighter soils whereas the winter beans prefer heavier soil types.
Weed control is achieved by pre-emergent applications although follow up treatments may be necessary. The cost of these is reduced if the pre emergent chemicals have worked. A programme of fungicides is applied to protect the crops through the growing period against diseases like rust, septoria and mildew for wheat, sclerotinia and alternaria for oilseed rape and mildew, Chocolate spot for Beans. Occasionally a pyrethroid is added to control various insect related diseases.
The recommendations are made by our agronomist John Clarke (Agronomy one). Crop inspections are made on a regular basis depending on the time of year and pressure of disease. Students walk the crops during practical sessions to monitor these recommendations and see the effects after application.
All the chemicals and fertilisers are purchased through Crop Advisor, whose aim is to achieve cost savings through purchasing large quantities for the members of the group.
Combinable crops are dried at Notton Farm in an Opico 12 ton drier and moved from this store to a rented store if the crop is sold during the year. Alternatively the crops are sold at harvest for movement straight away.
The rotation includes forage crops, maize, Italian ryegrass leys (2 years) and stubble turnips, a catch crop grown for winter feeding to the sheep.
Maize is drilled in the late spring generally early May which allows stubble turnips to be grown on the land following the wheat crop. The stubble turnips are drilled straight into the stubble field in early August.
Once the turnips have been eaten by the sheep, the fields are spread with manure and ploughed ready for preparation of a seedbed which needs to be fairly fine for drilling the maize. It is very important that maize growing fields are not panned so sub soiling is worthwhile. Preparation of maize ground is not advisable when soil conditions are wet.
Italian Ryegrass is being grown for the first time this year; the objective is to clamp all the Italian ryegrass to produce a consistent product for feeding the animals in the winter. This allows the cows to be turned out to grazing earlier in the spring than in previous years depending on weather conditions.
Three cuts of silage can be achieved, the first cut destined for the Dairy cows at Home Farm whilst the second and third cuts for the beef animals at Great Lodge. The silage is harvested by the students with the college's own equipment.
Students also harvest all the maize in October with the same equipment.
The permanent pasture on the farm is managed in a variety of ways depending on its location and topography. 15 ha's are in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and Entry Level Schemes as non fertilised areas. Areas of permanent pasture are so undulating it is difficult to travel over with machines so these areas would get a limited amount of fertiliser, whilst other areas can be cut for bale silage for the dry cows and sheep.
Grainseed Ltd undertakes detailed replicated forage maize trials on the College farm as part of their "Bred for Britain" trials network. Lackham provides a high fertility site where maize hybrids can express their maximum yield potential.
As well as trialing breeding material and commercial varieties, Grainseed also undertake agronomic, plant density and seed treatment experiments. These results provide the detailed background information for growers to enable them to optimise performance of maize on the farm.
This year Lackham Farm will be using Intelligent Precision Farming® to manage our arable inputs.
Under this approach we will be subdividing our fields into smaller areas based on soil type, in much the same way as our ancestors did when they divided the land into small fields. The difference is that we will be using GPS instead physical boundaries, which allows us to combine modern agricultural efficiency with the accuracy that comes from truly understanding the soil you are working with.
The roots of precision farming stem from improving efficiency by using GPS to understand variability within fields. This information can then be used to control machinery and improve the accuracy of operations. In recent years, it has moved into the mainstream as the accuracy of the GPS positioning systems has improved. A steep increase in input costs and a focus on protecting the environment means precision farming is now an essential tool in the farmer's armoury against rising costs.
The proven relationship between soil type and nutrient availability is at the heart of the Intelligent Precision Farming® service and the variable soils on Lackham Farm particularly lend themselves to this model of precision farming. The system will accurately map soil variations using soil scientists and GPS equipment. Uniquely, the IPF system focuses on gathering existing on-farm knowledge as well as using science. In this way it ensures the farmer and the agronomy team are kept in control. Precision farming can never replace the art of farming; it can only enhance its accuracy.
IPF is the most flexible precision farming package available; the farmer and agronomist can improve the accuracy of the following:
By improving the accuracy of inputs we expect to save money and improve crop output. Furthermore we will reduce our environmental impact, by accurately feeding the crop requirements rather than blanketing applications on the average of the field.
Lackham Farm will also benefit from the IPF Toolbox, a web tool which has been designed by leading farmers and agronomists. This makes the on-farm application of precision farming practical and interactive. The farm staff, agronomist and college students can all use the IPF toolbox to create precision management plans for the farm.