Best in Field Award: Beans - Fridays Ltd.

Fridays Ltd has been credited with having the best cost of production for Beans in the system at £40.81/t. We spoke to James Wrighton to find out more about how they achieved this and to hear about their future plans. 

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up on our family farm, which is where my interest in the industry started. I have a degree in Agriculture from Lincoln University, as well as an HND and an NDA from Cannington College in Somerset. I then spent five years working on a farm in Lincolnshire before moving into the fresh produce sector a decade ago. I worked for a company called Emmetts and loved it. I then came down to Kent five years ago, taking the role of Head Farm Manager, still working on the fresh produce side of things. Then a chance conversation 18 months ago led me here to Fridays Ltd. 
It has been great to bring my experience and ideas to the business here. I, like so many others, am looking to focus on regenerative agriculture and what that can bring to the business.

Tell us a bit about the farm.

Fridays are the 3rd largest fresh egg producer in the UK. Due to the chickens, as a result, we are very focused on wheat production; one of the blocks that we have put into Beans this year has two fields that haven't had a break from wheat in over 34 years. So, we are keen to see what results we get from the beans, having not had a pulse crop in the rotation for such a long time.  

Our total size is 834ha, of which 190 ha is made up of grass for our free-range unit, 40ha is woodland, 545ha is physical cropping with an additional 20-25ha of land dedicated to Stewardships. Finally, the remaining 10-20ha is made up of commercial properties, including the barn systems for the chickens. We also have our own Mill, which handles 75,000 tonnes of grain a year, which is all used to feed all the chickens.  

The Farm

  • 545ha of arable land
  • Team of 3 on the arable side
  • Grade 1 silt loam with black blue boulder clay
  • 3rd largest fresh egg producer in the UK
  • 3.6 million chickens

On the arable side of things, we're a small team; it is myself and two others, so we work closely together. We have a standard rotation; spring barley, winter barley, oilseed rape, spring wheat, winter wheat, beans and back to barley. We have worked hard on trying to expand that rotation, so we're starting to introduce lucerne, peas and we've got some grain maize coming in as well.  
We're very fortunate that we can block our land, so crop rotations work well when they are blocked together bring in efference's with spraying and combining. The farm is made up of six blocks within a ten-mile radius, so one crop can be grown per block of land. For us, Mr Friday is very focused on chickens, so they very much come first, and the arable is there to support them from the side.   

What soil type are you working with?

Our soil ranges from a Grade 1 silt loam to black blue boulder clay (Weald of Kent Clay).

Tell us a bit more about your Beans in general.

This is now our fourth year with the variety Tundra, and we stayed with it as a variety because it has shown good germination results from being a home saved seed. We had it tested every year, with last year having a 98% germination and no nematodes, so we are of the view if it isn't broken, why fix it. Yield wise we averaged 4.10t/ha, but on some fields where it has been virgin ground, it was as high as 10t/ha, so we're hoping for much the same on the virgin pulse ground this year. 

Your cost of production for Beans was £40.81, which was the lowest in our system.

Overall, your chemical spend was very low. However, you applied Azoxystrobin 8% higher than the YAGRO Median. Are you in a particularly damp area?

Normally it is due to our soil type; the clay holds moisture much more than other soils, so we'd apply at a rate appropriate to this. Although, last year, we drilled our Beans on a dryer, siltier part of the farm. Those fields were much more flood-prone due to their natural topography, so we applied it at that slightly higher rate. 

You're applying Boron at almost half the rate of the YAGRO median. Is your soil particularly rich?

We are fortunate with our soil. We have soil indices of around 7, with one field at 7.8. This has come from using our chicken muck on the soil. As a business, we produce 62,500 tonnes of chicken muck each year, of which around 1,000-2,000 tonnes would be spread on the farm, with the remainder going to our AD unit. A lot of the grain we produce here goes into the chicken feed, so it is a good cycle. I apply the same principle to cereal growing as I did to salad; a dark clean leaf is a healthy one; therefore, we don't spray for the sake of spraying. 

Looking at 2020 vs 2019, you’ve reduced your costs by £90 per ha; with your Herbicide down £50, Fungicide down £10 and your Biostimulants  down by £30. It's a significant reduction in costs; what enabled you to make such dramatic reductions?

It was a combination of things. The block of fields on which we drilled our Beans was good; clean, well-drained and fertile block, which played a factor. But we also looked much more closely at what we were spending the money on. I have spent more time researching prices and have found we can be saving £15/ha on applications subject to chemical choice. Those small savings soon add up, becoming significant savings. I have also cut out whole applications where I felt the crop didn't need it. With the wet winter of 2020, we were unable to get out and add our typical Pre-Em of Stomp and kerb, which would have brought our cost up. Looking back now, I feel we could have cut our spend even more; but that is the benefit of hindsight. 

Do you use a variable seed rate? We can see that some fields have had the median seed application of 250kg/ha, and other fields having upwards of 375kg/ha. What influences your seed rates?

That is down to the location of each field. We have some fields with a higher risk of flooding, so we drilled at a higher rate in preparation for that. We also drilled our worse-performing fields at a higher rate, and now that I'm going into my second harvest here, I am getting a better understanding of the farm and which fields perform better. Variable-rate seeding is something we want to do more of, along with variable rate Fertilizer applications. Because If we could knock off 1-2 tonnes of seed per crop, that would then bring a considerable business saving, somewhere around £7,500 across the farm. 

Beans Statistics

  • Variety: Tundra
  • Average yield: 4.1t/ha
  • Highest yielding field: 10t/ha
  • Cost of production: £40.81/t
  • Cost per hectare reduction: £90/ha from 2019

Your costs, in general, are all very low, but your application is broadly in line with the YAGRO median; you must be buying well?

Our rule of thumb is that we shop around; obviously, the owner wants us to get the best deal possible. We use Agrii, and I haggle with them for a good deal; I also use the Mill to our advantage; piggybacking on their buying power to get a better deal. 
YAGRO has been fantastic; I will admit I was sceptical initially as I didn't know how much value it would bring us. When I started using Analytics and began benchmarking myself against adjacent farming businesses, YAGRO was able to show me where we sat compared to everyone else. YAGRO very quickly highlighted to me areas in which we were able to make changes and savings. We were spending a lot of money on specific chemical applications and brand-named chemicals, where we could have made savings using other products. So now we can analyse our costings and justify our spending. 

Does Agrii do your agronomy on-farm?

Yes, we have been using Agrii, and Neil Harper is our Agronomist. We like to challenge him on suggestions to ensure we are making the best decisions for ourselves and that we're not applying for safety's sake. We are pleased with Agrii, and they have been a great support in helping us achieve some of our goals.

Will you be sticking with Tundra next year?

We are, but we are now looking at other options as we have been using Tundra for a while now. This is also the last year that we will be growing Beans on such a large scale, mainly due to the rotation needing to be spread out for them. 

Who do you credit with helping achieve this award?

I would like to pat myself on the back and say that it is down to one individual, but it's always a team effort, and we are very mindful of not doing something for the sake of it, like recreational cultivations. 
The next thing we want to look at is the timeliness of applications. I am happy to jiggle things around if it is going to be of benefit to the crop and the farm.    

"It’s always a team effort and we are very mindful of not doing recreational cultivations."

Do you have any ELMS or Stewardship plans in place? 

We will be looking to join the Countryside Stewardship Scheme this year in the hope of merging across to the ELMs in 2024. The farm the Beans are on this year is a low lying, flat area liable to a high risk of flooding; this winter of 2020-2021, it has already flooded five times. So, we've taken a policy of introducing entry-level grass margins in areas liable to flood. We have other areas where we have re-introduced woodlands just because of corners and other tricky bits and bobs. As we have such an array of historical features on the estate, it makes sense for us to look harder at what this scheme can bring to the business. As part of our business growth, Mr Friday has encouraged us to look at areas that can be used for other environmental benefits, such as a tree re-plantation scheme, which will see us taking out 45ha of commercial arable land for re-foresting it instead in the hope of being used for free chickens.      

And finally, what are your plans for farming in the future and post BPS? 

We are preparing for it as best we can. Mr Friday has set a brief of making the farm profitable before the single farm payment, which we have achieved in previous years. This is one of the reasons we are happy to be quite selective about the areas we will be putting into a Stewardship Schemes; because we won't be reliant on it. We can see how valuable it is and will certainly be re-introducing grass margin headlands and cover crops. As a business, we don't have a set plan in place; we want to see where things will go first. We would like to expand the farm by another 300-400ha which would allow us to maximise the use of the machinery we have.  

Congratulations to James Wrighton and the whole team at Fridays Ltd for winning our Best in Field Award for having the best cost of production for their Beans!

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