Harvest is about to get into full swing and this is a busy time for farmers.
At Stenton it is even busier, with over 150 plots to harvest as part of our I-Farm Agronomy centre, in conjunction with Agrii. It is very rare to have a brand new crop to harvest but this year we do and my goodness what a fantastic crop it is.
Just over a year ago we decided to include hybrid winter rye into our trials programme. Rye and sugar beet are the crops that make excellent feed stocks for anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. So the rye trials at Stenton were set up jointly with Philip Marr, one of the UK’s leading experts on crops for AD and with T.D Forster and Son, who are into year two of running a large AD biogas plant at the home farm at Wormit.
Philip designed the trial and my team sowed 24 plots, which we have just harvested. We selected six varieties at the standard seed rate and 20% less, treated and untreated. The secret of good establishment is a precise sowing depth which must not exceed 1cm. Easier said than done when you have large fields of various soil types to sow. In such cases the rule is do not exceed 8km per hour.
Our plots were sown on the October 3 last year. I have witnessed first hand what an amazingly vigorous crop rye is. You harvest the crop as whole crop silage when DM reaches 35%. Our plot yields were amazing and as expected the top two varieties were just as Philip had predicted and the highest yields came from the reduced seed rate plots. Farmers in Courier country can expect field scale yields around the 50 tonne/ha mark. However variety choice and seed rates are crucial. Rye crops must all be standing to enable efficient harvesting, so we will avoid the variety prone to lodging.
We are also considering growing sugar beet for AD at our other farm, Balcormo by Arncroach, next year. The last person to grow sugar beet there was one of Fife’s best growers, Jack Howie. Sugar beet ceased production when the Cupar factory closed following the 1971 harvest. Jack and Craigie decided to sell Balcormo and move to Kelfield farm , not far from Selby in Yorkshire.
If I am going to do justice to the Howie legacy I need a quick learning curve. So it was a pleasure to catch up with Jack on the phone. His two sons now farm 2500 acres and grow 160 acres of sugar beet. Yields have almost doubled since 1971 and it will take some going to match the average yield achieved by Jack and his family of 42.5 tonnes per acre!
I think a trip to Yorkshire is called for to get some advice first. I visited Jack and Craigie three years ago and enjoyed a farm tour. My father always told me Jack Howie was one of the best farmers in Yorkshire and the old boy was spot on.