Pioneering Stowmarket farmer seeks to cut chemicals on crops as trials reach second year

PUBLISHED: 15:13 06 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:13 06 June 2019

Teresa Meadows, Brian Barker and Anne Bhogal at the Strategic Farm East Open Day at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe  Picture; SARAH CHAMBERS

Teresa Meadows, Brian Barker and Anne Bhogal at the Strategic Farm East Open Day at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe Picture; SARAH CHAMBERS

Archant/Sarah Chambers

A Suffolk farmer leading the UK industry into a more sustainable future by trialling new techniques and strategies admits it’s been another challenging year for crop growing.

Brian Barker's family farm, at Westhorpe, near Stowmarket, was selected nearly two years ago to become the Agricultural Horticultural Development Board's (AHDB) first Strategic Farm for Cereals and Oilseeds in the UK, showing other farmers how real-life innovations - such as cutting inputs - can help their bottom lines and position them well for the future.

On Thursday, June 6, more than 120 farmers and professionals attended a Strategic Farm East Open Day focusing on reducing inputs such as fertiliser and agri-chemcials. They were offered an update on what stage the trials had reached, and shown demonstrations testing theories on issues such as fungicide inputs, and later drilling to avoid blackgrass.

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Last year posed a number of challenges to farmers, and this year - so far - has had its difficult moments with low moisture affecting plant development - as well as some of the tests being carried out in Brian's fields.

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The Stowmarket farmer has been carefully balancing the risks this year to drag his inputs down to their lowest sustainable level.

"It's been another challenging year," he admitted. "Every year is different so we can't just do the same thing over and over again. We have to be flexible to the conditions we have been given. That's what we try to promote - doing what's right at the time with the information we have gathered."

The spring weather, with just 8mm of rain in April, had reduced early growth on his cereal crops, and caused establishment issues on spring sowings, but it has meant slower disease development.

There are five main trials out in the fields this year, with some more which Brian has added in. One is overseen by cover crop expert Anne Bhogal, a soil scientist at ADAS, who, along with Ian Skinner, Essex & Suffolk Water catchment adviser, provided updates on how the trials are going. She has been looking to see whether cover crops are reducing the amount of nitrates running off the fields, but a dry winter meant they had to wait to test the theory.

Teresa Meadows, knowledge exchange manager at AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, said so far the response to the strategic farm initiative had been "fantastic", with momentum building.

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