Church Farm

Location: Shipton-by-Beningborough
Farm manager / Farm owner: David Blacker
Area: 500 acres
Type of Farm: HGCA monitor farm

The difficulty of creating quality seedbeds from the heavy Vale of York clay soils persuaded David Blacker that a move to strip tillage and different rotations might help performance and make the contracting side of the business easier to run.

Church Farm, Shipton-by-Beningborough, near York, is an HGCA monitor farm, and David works with a group of like-minded professional farmers to set performance benchmarks and discuss important issues like soil structure, machinery requirements and the like.

At the moment ways of meeting the new ‘three-crop rule’ is a hot topic, with David’s answer being to add spring beans to the wheat and oilseeds already in his rotation.

He farms 500 acres at Church Farm and does another 1,000 acres of contracting, with crop establishment being split evenly between conventional plough-based cultivations and non-inversion techniques.

But neither system was totally reliable, and working clay-based soils was causing soil compaction that was combining with inherent poor drainage to reduce yields:

Our system simply didn’t work properly anymore, especially in wet conditions, when getting crops drilled became a nightmare. Working clay soils when they’re wet is never good and we were suffering from gradually falling yields and income.

“We can normally expect to get four tonnes/acres yields, but in wet seasons we were struggling to maintain three tonnes/acre. I felt I needed to do something different and decided that avoiding working the soil repeatedly was the right idea.

He chose his 4m Mzuri Pro Til drill because he felt it was the best machine for the job:

It probably goes against many people’s thinking on direct drilling, because it moves quite a bit of soil. But the front leg does an excellent restructuring operation which benefits the crop.

It also enables us to place fertiliser below the seedbed – we have been using DAP (di-ammonium phosphate) to provide some early nutrition for the growing crop and to replenish the soil’s reserves for the future.

We used it for the first time in autumn 2013 and we went straight from plough-based cultivations to direct drilling with no cut in yield, but with a huge savings in the time, complication and cost of crop establishment.

Removing the number of passes in the system is already having benefits to the soil:

Where we ploughed we might do as many as four operations ahead of the cultivator drill; where we were using non-inversion tillage we might still do three preparatory passes

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