Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Attention to detail brings benefits on Suffolk farm

June 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Profiles

A long term strategy to beat blackgrass is also boosting yields for HH Craske and Son – and helping the environment.

A Suffolk farming family says a focus on drainage has helped improve yields and soil health while being good for the environment and helping to get on top of blackgrass.

Brothers Michael and James Craske farm some 720ha of arable crops and grassland as HH Craske & Son at Peyton Hall, Stone Street, near Hadleigh, Ipswich. Their interest in drainage stems from  their father John, who improved the drainage on the farm during the 1950s and 1960s.

“All the field drains are marked where they enter the ditch and we make sure they are well-maintained,” explains Michael. “We know the importance of good drainage for keeping blackgrass at bay and we put a lot of effort in to try to stop it encroaching.”

Cultivation helps too although the brothers say they are not wedded to any particular system. “We try to look after the soil as best we can and keep it in good condition,” says Michael. “Improving its structure is the most important thing because it means better yields.”

To aid blackgrass control, ploughing is only undertaken when necessary. Rotations are longer rather than shorter and challenging arable land adjacent to watercourses has been reverted to 6m grassland margins for protection of the water and to aid habitats.

Rotation

This year’s cropping is 335ha of winter wheat, with 53ha of winter barley, 80ha of winter beans and 154ha of winter oilseed rape. Unusually this year there is no spring cropping – the benefit of keeping fields relatively blackgrass-free – although spring crops do usually feature.

Wheat yields in the region of 10.5-11t/ha. Varieties include 94ha of Siskin for milling, with soft wheats Motown and Sundance making up the remainder of the wheat acreage. Both were selected for their resistance to orange blossom midge, which can be a problem.

Bazooka winter barley has proved effective in smothering any blackgrass and for an early harvest. Straw is baled by contractor – the only operation that is contracted out – to give an early entry to rape, which are all conventional varieties. Winter beans yield in the region of 5t/ha.

Rape is established using a HE-VA subsoiler with Accu discs. The cereal drill is an 8m Vaderstad on variable rates, which replaced a 6m drill of the same type. It means less turning on the headlands. “We try to make sure we farm as efficiently as possible – right from planting.”

Consistent height

Attention to detail extends to the use of a Trimble GPS system for drilling, seeding, all cultivations and combining. Spraying is carried out using a self-propelled Sands 4000 Vision on a 24m boom to keep a more consistent height over what is undulating ground.

A Kuhn Aero spreader is on standby and used to apply Avadex. “It’s the most effective way of applying it and it works,” says Michael, who is FACTS and BASIS qualified and walks the fields with Mike Greener of Hutchinsons.

Agrochemicals come from Farmagri, Hutchinsons or Harlow Agricultural Merchants. Other inputs come from similarly nearby suppliers or via Anglia Farmers. “We like to keep things local if we can,” adds Michael.

Fields were analysed by SOYL a few years ago and nutrients and magnesium are applied according to RB209 recommendations. “You could say it costs initially but we feel it is important to do the right thing and putting nutrients where they are needed is both more efficient and more effective.

“There isn’t going to be an endless supply of phosphate and potash – we know our nutrient mapping is working because we’ve assessed it four years on and it is bearing results – both in terms of crop performance and input savings.”

Storage

Grain is stored on the floor in two large drying stores – one with an 1800t capacity and the other which holds 1500t. A move towards central storage has seen an additional 650t of space purchased at Camgrain for quality wheat.

An old Atcost corn shed with 20t per hour Turner continuous flow drier – used to do all the grain on the farm – is today used for just the rape and beans. But the business has developed a long way from the day the farm was purchased by the Craske family in 1951.

Prime movers on the farm include a Challenger 845, a John Deere 8310, JD 8220 and JD 6210. There is also a CASE 155 Puma and soon to be a Case 240 CVX. “When you need to do a job you have to do be able to do it,” says James, who is responsible for the machinery.

Off the farm, both brothers steward at the local Hadleigh Show. They are also active members of the Suffolk Agricultural Association and the Farmers’ Club – using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date on topical issues.

Environmental responsibilities are taken seriously. Although grass margins are not in stewardship, the farm is farmed with the environment very much in mind. More than 1000m of hedgerow was planted this spring, as well as oak trees and lime trees.

“Father was a very forward-thinking man,” says Michael. He recognised the importance of drainage and took every opportunity to improve the farm. But where we amalgamated fields, such as by removing high banks, we have always made sure we planted something in their place.

“It’s all part of putting something back into the land, rather than taking.”

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