A conversation with James ‘Jay’ Wrighton at Fridays Ltd


Fridays Ltd is a mixed enterprise based in Kent and have been using the YAGRO platform since 2017. Their operation covers 840ha, of which 560ha is arable crop. We spoke to Jay Wrighton, Head Farm Manager, to understand how as an arable farm manager how he uses the YAGRO Platform. 

Jay, what drew you to the Platform initially?

It all started with your initial offering of Price Check, where we were looking at price comparisons on chemicals.  We had wanted to benchmark our agronomist and it provided us with a greater confidence in benchmarking our purchasing.

I see you’re quite involved in the collaborative features of the system, our Virtual Group tool, as well. 

Yes, we’ve got a group of likeminded farms in Kent who are collaborating. It took about a year after starting our Virtual Group to get some structure and align what we wanted to achieve. But now we have that structure and have been on the platform a few years - we get loads out of it. 

Initially, the essential part was  to find a common theme across businesses in the group in order to reach a common goal. The most prominent crop amongst our group was First Wheat, particularly Extase, so enhancing First Wheats became our priority. 

We decided to focus on drilling dates and timeliness for First Wheats and started analysing those. Group data showed fluctuating yield responses compared to drill date. We learned there was a clear point around the middle of October where the yield would fall off. Essentially, we were muddling our crops in after the weather turned. We weren’t getting pre-em on, weren’t getting BYDV on, and were upping seed rates because conditions were poor. All to sometimes just achieve half the yield. 

Drilling between 11th Sept – 11th Oct resulted in upwards of 9.5t-11t yields, but it went below 8t and even down to 4.5t if drilled in the second half of October or later.

We then started to look at our growing costs, like cultivation techniques, fungicide applications and fertiliser. This highlighted another layer to consider - how fast are you able to turn around and drill? If you’re going to see 30% reduction in yield if you’re late drilling, the conclusion was to bring in a contractor and/or second drill, because that paid for itself by the increased productivity.

That then led on to other wider conversations that helped drive efficiencies in technique.

And what other wider conversations did this open within your group?

The second takeaway was Nitrogen efficiency. We’ve worked hard these last few years to adjust N use, particularly timings, to see if we can get better yield responses - which is starting to pay dividends.

We were spreading 220-240Kg for roughly a 7t or 8t yield. Last year, building on the back of the conversations around drilling date, we looked closer at timelines of fertiliser. We’ve essentially ended up putting more on in Feb and less in May. Our yields have increased and are now up to 11.5t. 

Thirdly, and perhaps the biggest, was fungicide efficiency, which can be a costly input. There was evidence to show that one of our group had a significant opportunity to bring savings to their operation by tightening their fungicide regime, which was a big win for them. Often, it’s about whether you can drop out T0’s or T1’s, as well as what chemical is best to use.

Again, it really opened the conversation up. We got onto grain storage, comparing home saved to purchased seed. And began comparing digestate costs. It’s all about building blocks of data and there’s a lot of value in having these conversations, which the data sharing of Virtual Group enables.

Is there anything you’d like to see added to Virtual Groups? Or to the YAGRO platform itself? 

Well, we use YAGRO as a growing cost centre. To that end, I think making some Virtual Groups more crop orientated and specific to certain varieties would add a tonne of value.

You must be structured in your approach within these groups to achieve results. You’ve got to keep the goals aligned and either keep the groups local or have the same mindsets.

In terms of the Platform, the addition of box plots and being able to see how you sit within the average of purchasing was a positive one. 

Variety-level Virtual Groups are on the engineering team's long list of things to build so I hope we can show you some progress on that this year.  

We’ve covered inputs & timings, are there any other elements within your YAGRO data that helped with overall operations? 

The field-by-field analysis is another thing. The benchmark is usually done as £/ha over the entire farm, but by breaking it down to a field yield basis against a growing cost, you can see your field performance directly and compare. To see that as a graph visually was very impactful. 

What field-by-field highlighted to us is, by working backwards from a field level, you can see what impact certain areas are having on your farm-wide yield. This then expanded into logistical conversations and provided evidence to support a decision against a cost. Rather than having your whole farm average pulled down on a cost per hectare basis, it allowed you to see exactly what the better and poorer fields were doing and make a reasoned decision on a field-by-field basis.

For example, I’ve got one field that’s less than 3ha. I nearly put that into CSS. But interrogating the data revealed the field to actually be delivering 10t/ha consistently. Because we had such a good gross margin for that field, we ended up widening the gate to improve access for machinery. Being able to visualise the field-by-field data stopped me from putting one of my best-performing fields into CSS. 

It really shows that an average cost per hectare isn’t all you have to focus on. You should go into the field for a field average and work backwards from that, to truly see what’s helping and what’s hindering your operation. It’s easy to look at the field and think ‘that’s inefficient, it’s only a few hectares’ – but that field was producing 20t over 2ha consistently. 

We’d like to thank Jay for his time talking through his farming operations, and good luck with the rest of the 2023 growing season.

YAGRO Virtual Groups enable farmers to collaborate with like-minded businesses, securely and privately sharing cleaned, verified and structured data sets to maximise learnings with those they know and trust.