The YEN for excellence is a driver for innovation

Sweethope Farm

I have been part of the yield enhancement network (YEN), for 6 years and have won both Silver and Bronze awards. It makes me think about how we do things, and how to get the cost per tonne down. It continues to be a fantastic learning experience – yield is king, but not at any cost! Producing 14.1tn/ha at a total cost of £97/tn in 2015 is definitely the way forward. Our oilseed rape yields have risen by 20% in the two years of YEN OSR.

I am doing 5 YEN trials this year (6 in 2018), taking regular measurements such as tissue analysis and broad spectrum soil analysis among other methodology, and pulling that all together to understand any weaknesses in the cropping system, for example lack of specific nutrition in the soil. Out with YEN, there are a further 8 industry and farm led trials on the farm this year (12 in 2018). I am part of a small UK wide network of businesses (a sub-group of YEN) which, last year, investigated the manipulation of soluble stem carbohydrate reserves within crops. This year, as part of the same Farmer Innovation Groups (FIG), thirteen of us nationally are testing the hypothesis that the “little and often” approach to crop nutrition produces more yield.

As a spin-off benefit of using auto-steering on the main tractor, I can geo-reference fuel consumption during cultivations. The tractor consumes more fuel where soil is stiff and heavy. These areas are the places where fewer seeds germinate and predation from birds and slugs is high. It's showing me that on a map. I use that map for variable rate applications of seed, increasing the seed rate in the stiff, heavy areas. Soil conductivity scans cost at least £15/ha, I'm getting that information for free!

Under the SRDP-AEC Scheme, a 12m headland around all the WOSR crops is used for an over-wintered stubble followed by green manure option. The scheme pays £798/ha, which, minus the costs of establishment and seed leads to an excellent and risk free £700+/ha profit margin, and it makes better use of the headlands on the farm. These payments are guaranteed for the five year life of the scheme. Pesticides are not permitted on the area. This fitted well with metaldehyde slug pellet rules and some WOSR chemical restrictions as well. The previous crop stubble is left to naturally regenerate over the winter. In the spring these areas are cultivated and drilled with a green manure crop, planted in mid-May, and incorporated after 15 August. We use a deep-rooting structure mix (with flowering species for the bees) to improve the soil structure on the headlands. The scheme is rotated around the farm providing benefits to all subsequent crops as well as wildlife.

Following on from the soil health improvements we have been able to achieve, I have developed a system to enable successful spring crop establishment using min-till cultivations.

“Without change, you cannot expect things to get better” !