Best in Field 2023. Saltby Farms, Winter Rye.


Frazer Jolly and the team at Saltby Farms have won our Winter Rye Best in Field Award 2023 with a brilliant variable Cost of Production of £49.81. We visited Frazer on-farm to learn more about their 2023 season. For this light-hearted yet highly insightful conversation, we were joined by his agronomist, Damian McAuley of Indigro.  

Over to Frazer to begin with, why don’t you introduce yourself and your farm?  

(Frazer) I’ve been Working Farm Manager at Great Oakley Estate for 8 years now, based at one of our farms in Saltby, so spend my time in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. We have a small but fantastic team at Great Oakley. Damian, our agronomist, and Luke who works full time on our machinery. Plus, Rachel in the farm office and other members at the Great Oakley Head Office. 

Soil types: we have an old airfield which presents quite brashy land, which is fantastic during wet times but can bite you in a drought. The Western area of the Estate has slightly heavier land, so it varies. We also have a small Site of Special Scientific Interest, where we graze sheep. Plus, a Catchment Sensitive Site as the River Eye begins on one of our farms at Bescaby.  

You mention sheep, do you also have cattle? I notice on your YAGRO Platform that you’re using cattle muck. 

(Frazer) We have a dairy, but we rent it out to the Wellwood family who are much better at dairying than we could ever be! We have a straw-for-muck arrangement which works well. It would be nice to have some surplus, but we tend to use all the muck ourselves. We also buy poultry muck and biosolid in.  

And how long have you two been working together, Damian & Frazer? How is the working relationship going?  

(Frazer) Terribly! 

(Damian) Terrible on both sides. Only joking... We’re coming up to our fourth harvest together.  

(Frazer) I feel like Damian is the brains of our agronomy side. I’m BASIS and FACTS qualified myself, but I’m so busy across both our farm sites, that having someone as dedicated as Damian is a great asset.  

(Damian) As an independent agronomist, I have a close working relationship with all my clients, but on this farm in particular Frazer and I work very closely together. I’m well interrogated on my thoughts. Frazer often raises good and valid questions around my intentions and plans for agronomic interventions, but the applications get done well and on time.  

You’ve won our Winter Rye award with a variable Cost of Production £49.81/t. Let’s start with ‘the why.’ Why have you chosen to include Winter Rye in your rotation?  

(Frazer) The initial intention was to try and replace our Second Wheat. Which has gone well, bar 2022 when we got let down on a seed order. We’re also happy with the volume of straw we get from Rye, which we sell at better value than Wheat straw into the horse market.  

(Damian) To add to that, I know several farms who have looked at Rye over the last few years as a replacement to Second Wheat – especially as an entry crop to Oilseed Rape, as it’s typically a slightly earlier harvesting cereal option. The margin can stack up well, but you do have to choose your sites carefully.  

(Frazer) And this year is a prime example of choosing land wisely. On our lighter land, we’ve seen better crops and better returns. When our Rye was on heavy land and it’s been wet, we’ve had a lot of failure. I don’t mind admitting that. It’s no secret. But in the right situation and on the right land, Winter Rye works.  

You did grow twice the hectarage in 2023 compared to 2021, so you must be valuing Rye and what it brings to the rotation?  

(Frazer) Very much so. The first year showed us it was the right road to go down.  

(Damian) It performed well in 2021. Although we did have some grassweed issues that year, it still yielded well. One issue with Rye and blackgrass is that establishment needs to happen early, which can be tricky regarding delayed drilling for blackgrass control. It also needs to be drilled quite shallow which can be problematic for pre-em applications. 2023 allowed for less spend following drilling on cleaner sites.  

In terms of those inputs, your chem spend has dropped by roughly a third between 2021 and 2023. But your yield has increased by around 17%. How have you achieved both simultaneously?  

(Damian) The siting of the crop was different. 2023 saw less blackgrass pressure, so we had less spend on herbicide. Looking at the data, there wasn’t massive changes in our approach.  

The main fungicidal spend is for Rust control, which is a relatively cheap disease to control if your timing is good. In 2021, we were using SDHI chemistry, whereas in 2023 we were more proactive and applied curative Tebuconazole, which is quite a cheap material to use. We also buy well by using the Agricure buying group.  

One increase was in Trace Elements. That’s almost doubled between 2021 and 2023. What’s your thinking around Trace Elements at the moment?  

(Damian) There’s a lot of talk around reducing agrochemical inputs and replacing them with Biostimulants, to make a healthier crop that needs less spending on it. As an independent agronomist that’s interesting to me. If I can manage the same job for less money and environmental impact, that’s good. I’m yet to see reliable data on that. I don’t have a replacement for Rust control in a biological or micronutrient form.  

However, Rye is quite a low-input crop, which does give us some financial headspace to try things. With a fast-growing crop it can run out of steam. Plus, some of our land is slightly less fertile. So, for micronutrients, it’s nothing too fancy – Manganese to start with (important for early season growth) and Magnesium later in the season for Chloroform production.  

Would you say there are any other main reasons you’ve been able to keep your variable costs down?  

(Frazer) In summary, I’d say attention to detail and constantly monitoring the crop. We bounce around some novel ideas sometimes and I often ask Damian if there’s more we could be doing along the crop health route.  

(Damian) Attention to detail, certainly, particularly in the early season. That really comes down to Frazer, getting successful establishment at the right time and keeping on top of pests. Making sure the crop is up and away helps with everything – disease control, grassweed control, growth regulation, etc...  

The best possible start is essential. Speaking of drilling, Frazer, do you have a favourite bit of kit or machinery?  

(Frazer) I’m not a fan of having a yard full of machinery. Primarily we have a Grange Toolbar, as it’s known, which is minimal disturbance. Previously, we used a Vaderstad drill and no further cultivations. That worked well on the lighter land. We’ve now progressed onto a Horizon drill. This is a direct drill, but we still use the Grange ahead of it when needed.  

Unfortunately, when I started here, we had a lot of compaction which has taken us some time to improve. Over the years we’ve used controlled traffic methods and cover cropped, which is starting to result in improvements in our soil.  

We have an 8RX which offers very low compaction and pulls the machinery well. It’s essentially a one-pass system.  

And what cover crops are you using in your rotation? 

(Frazer) At first, we introduced Stubble Turnips and moved on from there with a variety of species. Our neighbours graze their sheep throughout winter. So, it’s a 50/50 decision between what’s going to benefit our soils and what’s going to benefit the sheep.  

We try to get cover crops in as soon as the combine leaves the field. It’s often dry but usually comes out well and is a risk worth taking.  

Let’s talk about some Winter Rye varieties. Your choice in 2021 was a hybrid bred by Saaten Union, SU Mephisto. And in 2023 your award-winning crop was also a hybrid, KWS Tayo. What do you look for when choosing a variety?  

(Frazer) Agronomically, we need a crop that’s going to stand the weather and the tests of time. It can’t lodge easily. We are also looking for yield. Moving from one variety to the next felt like a natural progression as SU Mephisto has been around quite a while.  

(Damian) Hybrid varieties are very good, particularly with early season establishment. And regrowth in Spring. But you do have to be very careful with their height, from both a PGR and Nitrogen perspective. Frazer looked at me like I was mad last year when I suggested a growth regulator as things were drying out and getting hot, but it’s critical.  

We had an interesting area where we had a very high seed rate due to a drilling issue. But even with this high seed rate, the crop stayed standing and didn’t lodge.  

(Frazer) Let’s be honest, there was a mistake with the drilling that year. We can call it a trial strip. The operator realised the error of his ways and we decided to go back over an area where we thought very little seed had gone in. Turns out it was like cress when it came up. But it still stood. And credit to the operator for being honest and making the call.  

Speaking of seeds, I was going to ask about costs. Because your seed costs for 2023 were £141/ha, so fairly substantial. But you’d say you’re seeing the benefits of the hybrids?  

(Frazer) I’m a fan of using a bold seed rate. At times, you’ve only got one bite at the cherry, and I like using a good seed rate.  

(Damian) It’s the economics that usually restricts a hybrid seed rate. But I’d say typically seed rate gets increased to combat challenges when establishing conventional varieties. But the hybrid varieties face these challenges better (including grassweed pressure) so the economics can be in favour of hybrids despite the initial seed cost being higher, because the reliability of establishment and crop performance almost always pays for the extra cost of the seed.  

We spoke a bit off-air about the relationship between yield, Costs of Production and Gross Margin. Would you like to share some of your thoughts on that?  

(Damian) Now, if I bang on about being an independent agronomist, feel free to shut me up! But I have an agronomic perspective that is always around return on investment. While we all want to see a good yield at the end of the day, if that yield has cost more to achieve than a lower yield with better margins, potentially less yield would be better for everyone.  

(Frazer) Oddly, we do carry out trials throughout the growing season and we also host trials for various chemical companies. So, we’re open to trying new things and seeing what works.  

And on the sell-side, I read you’re in a farmer cooperative for your Wheat. Do you take part in anything similar for your Rye?  

(Frazer) We don’t. The Rye is on the open market. Where we are located a lot of it tends to go for pig food with ADM, and Charles Jackson  

Finally, what’s on the horizon for Saltby Farms next season and beyond?  

(Frazer) Hopefully more diversification. We’re looking at a multitude of projects. We’re just out of HLS here at Saltby and looking to enter a new scheme.  

We work with YAGRO to continue identifying our weak points and areas for improvement. And I want to keep up with our attention to detail. Streamline our SFI options, maximise crop production areas, and maximise every area of the estate.  

Finally, I’d like to credit this award (which has my name on it) to my entire team who make this all possible.  

We’d like to congratulate Frazer and the team at Saltby Farms once again for winning YAGRO’s Best in Field Award for Winter Rye 2023. With thanks to Frazer and Damian for taking their time to speak to us, we wish them all the best for harvest 2024.  

Luke Sayer joined our Marketing Team in March 2023. With a background in the Arable Trials sector and a First Degree in English, Luke is responsible for writing our articles and handling press relations. His journey in agriculture began in 2008, when he worked his first harvest. Over the next 15 years, Luke worked a dozen harvest seasons - becoming a full-time Arable Trials farmer from 2019 to 2023. He has farmed every type of cereal plus pulses and break crops, but specifically focused on developing better beta-glucan levels in Oat varieties. In his YAGRO articles, Luke emphasises the crucial role that data and technology play in modern agriculture. He believes that listening and responding to farm data is the surest way to increase sustainability and efficiency in this ever-evolving industry. You can contact Luke on