Best in Field Harvest 2022 - Spring Oats
Aldenham Farm Partnership have been credited the YAGRO Best in Field award for Spring Oats 2022, with a Cost of Production of £27.15/t. Lauren, our Partnership Manager, sat down with Jamie Malrose from TEAM Ag to learn more about their achievement.
Jamie, let’s start by hearing a bit about yourself...
I grew up on my family farm near Colchester, Essex and started working for my father. I then spent time away from farming and lived in Australia for a few years before returning to the UK. I started working full time on the farm when I was 21 and served my time there for ten years before wanting to expand my career and went on to do a Masters at Writtle University College.
I joined AT Bone in 2015 to 2022 as Growing Crops Manager following their expansion to 2500 hectares, then joined TEAM Ag at the end of 2022 harvest because I wanted a fresh challenge in my career and moved more into direct agronomy and advice on other farms.
Please can you tell us a bit about the farm?
Aldenham Farm Partnership has been contract farmed by AT Bone for the last 20 years on particularly challenging soils, and a particularly challenging area. It’s right on the edge of North London, with little drainage in a built-up area, so it tends to lay quite wet all year round.
It’s also challenging logistically since it will actually fall into the ULEZ zone, so getting lorries there is going to be problematic at harvest. It’s up to AT Bone as contractors to farm as best they see fit.
Jamie, your variable Cost of Production for Spring Oats is coming out at £27.15/t. Looks like N applications on Spring Oats were low for you in 2022 (about 50% of market median). Is this something you routinely do, or was this in light of the challenging prices of N in 2022?
Traditionally, that block of land would have never been a Spring Crop. That particular block of land has always been Autumn cropped. Because of the nature of the land, once you do start getting some rainfall at the end of September/ beginning of October, generally you are never going to get on it - as soon as it starts raining the door closes. Which has led to it being a haven for black grass.
Black grass is the main issue on this farm, behind the soil type and lack of drainage. It was really a case of just pushing the boat out and seeing if we could get a Spring crop in there, because blackgrass-wise the previous year we had a WW crop of 5.5 t/ha, so obviously that is unsustainable. And that was a WW crop drilled at the back end of September that established beautifully, one of the best established WW I’ve ever seen. However, it then came with black grass that seemed to germinate all the way through the winter.
So we went to Spring Oats because we’d had success growing Spring Oats elsewhere on varying soil types. We got them drilled into good conditions, although a little later than we would have liked at the end of March. The best have traditionally been those drilled in February time. The block of land had laid wet throughout then so had plenty of moisture to get the crop going. It was relatively free from blackgrass, the Oats outcompeted what was there.
We would traditionally be around 100 kg/N on Spring Oats, but because it was drilled late we put the one hit on. That block of land has had compost applied to it probably most years for the last 7/8 years, so we had built up the organic matter in that soil. We just thought really that we’d cut back especially because of where the price of N was, and 50 kilos in one pass was what we thought would be sufficient. When the land dried out we let the crop starve itself so that the crop tapped down into the soil and scavenged for the Nitrogen and other nutrients. That was the theory behind it.
Across other farms in 2022, were you applying less N?
We might have tailored back all our crops slightly, but not to that extreme on those Oats. On the other Spring Oats drilled earlier we would have put some on in the seed bed and some more on when the crop was developing.
And the variety itself, Lion, is it dictated by end market?
100% dictated by market. All the Oats go to Glebe Farm Foods, and they have done for years. We used to grow a lot of Mascani in the past, but we ditched Mascani because it’s not viable on the farms due to blackgrass.
We went over to Elyann briefly, then Lion because that’s the end market favoured variety. We are completely led by them; it is not an agronomic decision, it’s a market decision. We would look at whether it’s working all the time, but Lion has been grown on farms for AT Bone for the last few years and they have been the most successful years growing Spring Oats. We seem to be getting better and better yields.
And in terms of Oats this year, more going in?
So AT Bone have got around 350 ha of Spring Oats all drilled around mid-February, all Lion again. All up very nicely. I don’t think personally we’ll be looking to tailor the N back to the levels we had, but it is interesting that those were Best in Field with a completely reduced Nitrogen rate. All the Oats this year have already had 50 kilos of Nitrogen and we have a long way to go. They also wouldn’t have had the organic matter put into those fields as much as Aldenham Farm Partnership had.
We see a relatively low fungicide programme on Spring Oats, is that a common protocol for your farm?
Spring Oats from an agronomic perspective aren’t actually too difficult to grow. In terms of fungicides, there aren’t too many options. There isn’t big disease issues, and there isn’t really any herbicides that you can use that are effective. It makes the job easy in that respect, but you have just got to make sure that you get a crop well established.
It’s a challenging time in terms of rising costs and volatile grain markets. Is there anything you are doing differently or looking to do differently?
Generally, I do believe that good farming practise does come out on top. So, all the farms that TEAM Ag and AT Bone are involved with will farm to the same levels and standards they have before and it’s all about the attention to detail. Good solid agronomy and not missing out on key timings are important.
I think a lot of crops have been sold fairly well forward, so we’re looking good in that respect. We just need to hammer home the yield! All contract farms have these systems built into them because of the inflated costs to safeguard the contract farmer as much as the landowner.
I would say AT Bone are very lucky to have the best spray operator you could wish to have on any farm. His attention to detail and work ethic are second to none and that makes a huge difference to their operation. They’re running one sprayer on over 2700ha which is quite incredible. I will work closely with the sprayer operator from TEAM Ag side, so we’ll talk constantly throughout the Spring.
Are there any opportunities out there for farms? BPS phase out well underway, ELMs and new SFI standards coming about.
I suppose every farm is quite different for lots of reasons. But I believe the most important thing for a farm is to be as resilient as a business as you can be, so that when you are looking at the wider picture outside of farming, lets say, by utilising the land and the knowledge and the skill sets of the people to really drive a bit more diversification. That would be the stand out thing for me. Not solely relying on the farm to simply make money itself. Where AT Bone are lucky with the location is how it opens up a lot of avenues for business outside of farming, but all still directly involved with the farm.
And when you come to SFI, ELMs, CSS, I think it is important to have a handle on that. This is where I would say tools like YAGRO come into play. As well as other sources of data, like yield mapping. Everything you do on farm should be data driven, and by using your data effectively you know what’s happening at a field level.
We use YAGRO to analyse what fields are making money, then actually pin-pointing areas with yield mapping data which can be turned into margin mapping data. You can then look at SFI/ELMS/CSS in a different light rather than just saying ‘we think that field doesn’t do well’. Most of the time you might be fairly accurate on that but having the data to back it up and building up a picture over many years of data is more important than anything else, I think. So, I’m trying to involve more data-led decisions on farms I’m involved with now.
That’s quite important because many farmers are good farmers but may not necessarily know the stats behind it. They may be led by land agents telling them that’s what’s doing well, but I think farmers need to know first-hand themselves what the numbers are. It gives you a bit of leverage when working with landowners (from a contractors point of view). You can go into these meetings and show exactly what is happening on farm. And between a whole group of you, you can make informed decisions.
You’ve got to look at the rotation as well, in some ways one year in isolation isn’t that relevant. We’re quite lucky AT Bone have been on YAGRO since 2019 so that’s 3-4 years of very good data on the system now, on top of all the margin mapping work we’ve been doing. There’s a very big picture out there we can look at, we know what is doing well, what’s not. There is one farm in AT Bone business, the biggest part of the farm, where there isn’t any part of the arable farming production that needs to come out. When you look at the data on the YAGRO system, there is no reason not to farm and continue to farm in the way they’re farming, it is just keeping on top of the job and actually the CSS will come in on other areas of the estate which aren’t getting used as much. It’s about utilising land that won’t be making money when BPS goes, and actually putting them into schemes, whether that’s through SFI or CSS, those decisions are currently being made.
But there is a cost associated with this payment for public goods route?
When you look at payment schemes for CSS they look good. They are delivering benefits to the environment in lots of different ways. If you look at the bare bones financially, once you look at what you have to do in order to implement these and to look after them, there isn’t a huge amount of money left in the job after that.
All farmers want to farm productively – we are all about food production and I think that gets forgotten slightly, despite being the most important thing to farmers. We look after the countryside on top of that whilst farming. It’s about having a blend by using bad areas of the farm which may deliver other benefits to the environment. It isn’t that difficult if you are data led and using data to back up thoughts and theories. AT Bone have been doing this long before ELMs and SFI have been a talking point.
Who do you credit with helping achieve this award?
In this example with the contractor relationship it’s a complete team effort. It’s agronomist, it’s farm manager, it’s spray operator... the guys that actually get the operation done on time. Complete team effort! And it’s also discussed and planned ahead with landowners and land agents. We plan ahead months before we even get to the event. Preparation and team effort all the way round.
How does colaberation work as an advisor?
Discussion, communication, sharing ideas. I shouldn’t be afraid as an advisor to bring other advisors in where appropriate to help the farm. That’s the beauty of being an independent advisor/ agronomist, I have no links to the market directly. There is no bias. It is all about delivering value on farm, and that’s what TEAM Ag are about. All about delivering and keeping value on farm. And not taking it off farm which has been the case for many years in the consultancy industry. Everything needs to be done collaboratively, all moving in the same direction.
Congratulations to the team at AT Bone and Aldenham Farm Partnership for winning the Spring Oats 2022 Best in Field.