All that Yields is not Gold

Before rushing out to buy your oat seed for this autumn based on the Farmers Weekly piece “Three New Oat Varieties for Farmers to Try” look beyond the headlines at the data provided in the HGCA recommended List for oats.  Whilst Rhapsody does have a higher yield that Mascani both the Kernel Content and Hullability scores are well below Mascani.  The same is true for the new spring variety Monaco which again scores poorly for both Kernel Content and Hullability against a well tested variety such as Firth.    Monaco also has a very poor mildew score which may become of more importance as growers move oats further forward in their rotation.

For varietal recommendations and seed prices for growing organic oats please call 08456 521 706.

Whites Eastern Organic Oat Group Farm Walk

We are meeting on 26th June at 10.00 (until about 13.00) at Hammonds End Farm to have a farm walk to look at the effect, if any, of the application of Maxicrop. which Howard has been using on his oats (and other crops) this year. Maxicrop is claimed to stimulate chlorophyll production in the leaf, stimulate soil biological activity and  and reduce stress experienced by plants.

brix testerWe will have a look at a Brix test to assess the difference in the nutrient levels in the leaves which may give us some indication as to whether the Maxicrop has had any effect.  Ultimately the test will be the quality of the grain that is produced but hopefully some simple assessments at the field lefel can help us all understand how close we are to achieving the goal of better grain quality.

Please let Kathy know if you are coming on 08456 521 706


“If it ain’t good enough to sow, it ain’t good enough to sell”

In the last month or so we have had some loads of oats tested for which the screenings have increased from a perfectly respectable level at below 5% to levels approaching 10% or even higher.

One possible reason for this is that farmers are cleaning their home-saved spring seed and then dumping the out-turn from the mobile cleaner back onto the heap.

This leads to costs in either claims or additional cleaning.  One recent example saw a through store weight loss of approximately 16% despite the screenings testing at about 11%.  In order to remove the screenings the load needed to be cleaned twice which clearly resulted in additional losses.

As we move forwards with premiums payable for improved oat quality it will increasingly be false economy to continue the practice of adding seed cleanings to your grain.  Please put them in the feed bin or heap for the gamekeeper and remember the adage, “If it ain’t good enough to sow, it ain’t good enough to sell”

How do you match up as an organic farmer?

We have been running some organic benchmarking with a  small group of arable producers and now have 5 year’s data.  There are some interesting details which come out of this exercise to do with long terms trends.  It might be of interest for you to think about how your farming business compares? From a marketing perspective it gives some very clear information about the levels that are required in order to provide for a sustainable business.

The headline statistics:

  • It costs about £1050 – £1100 per ha to grow an organic cereal crop but beans are a bit cheaper
  • Average wheat yield was 4.29 t / Ha and for beans it was 2.63 t/Ha
  • There was a 3.01 t/Ha spread between the highest yielding year for wheat and the lowest.  For beans the spread was 3.16 t/Ha

So how can we use this information?  Firstly, as a farming business you can use some of this data as a point of comparison to see how your cereal production measures up and this can then lead to questions as to where and why the differences occur.  We can also use it to look at the longer term sustainability of markets.  If we know the average cost of production per Ha and the average yield we know where the market need to be in order to provide a profitable return to the farmer.  The data would put this figure at in the mid £240’s which is above most sales from the 2013 harvest.

With conventional feed grains trading at about £150 for November 2014 we need a premium closer to £100 per tonne than looks likely at present.  Perhaps a fair price for organic grain should be a £100 premium over the conventional ex farm value?

The data also shows that beans should have  a premium of about £100 per tonne over the organic cereal price.  This level is rarely achievable.

This work has come about through the work undertaken with the farmers supplying BQP with feed wheat, feed barley and beans.  This is a market that is seeking to maximise the tonnage of UK grown feed grains fed to pigs.  It is  known market to grow for and has been a successful venture for the farmers currently supplying it.  If you would like to get involved with this group and grow for a known, secure market please contact us on 08456 521 706


ORC Producer Conference Reflections

I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with colleagues and friends at Organic Research Centre’s Annual Producer Conference in January.  It was once again a mix of thought provoking strategic plenary sessions and some detailed technical workshops.

Two of these were aimed at the arable producer with the aim of “closing the productivity gap” to help organic farmers increase yields.  The first session organised by, Newcastle University was looking at fertility and the second, organised by Organic Arable at weed control.


This session was organised by the team at Newcastle University who reported their work at the organic unit at Nafferton and there were presentations by Daniel Seaborne from Holme Lacy College and Johen Mayer from the Swiss research organisation, Agroscope.

At Nafferton they have trials managed organically  (using clover leys and a full rotation) but that are on conventional land which allows them to add mineral fertilisers to examine the how nitrogen deficit effects grain yields.

To introduce the session Julia Cooper put organic yields into a global context and reported that, globally organic cereal yields are approximately 25% below those of conventional farmers and the work  showed that for the most recent 4 year average yield data at Nafferton would concur with this.  However in 2011 they saw a yield reduction of just 11%.  The reason for this yield improvement in 2011 is not understood.

The work Jochen conducts is known as the DOK trial.  This is a long term trial comparing organic and conventional systems.  On some plots organic manures are applied to replicate livestock manure deposition which allows theoretical comparisons between mixed and stockless farming systems.  This again concurs with Naffeton and the wider global organic yields deficits of about 25% on  conventional yields.  At DOK in trials where additional N is applied to organic plots this yield is deficit is reduced to about 10%.  This indicates what we know that N is a significant factor in improving organic yields.  A further interesting comment was that when nitrogen supply was improved this provided additional yield rather than higher protein levels.

At Nafferton on the “organic” plots on conventional land on which ammonium nitrate was added to boost nitrogen availability the yield deficit to conventional dropped to about 10% and if the red clover fertility build was increased from 2 to 3 years yields again achieved a similar level to this “modelled” conventional nitrogen input level.

From this I took two messages.  The first is that it is possible to achieve a 25% yield deficit when growing organic cereals (I would suggest most UK producers work on a yield deficit of 40 – 50%) and that this can be reduced to just 10-15% if nitrogen supply can be improved.   This would suggest that as organic farmers we have huge potential ahead of us as a yield improvement of perhaps 50% above where we are today is achievable.

The second being that it is perhaps easier to chase yield and so improve output than seek higher values high protein wheat.  However the market

Weed Management

The weed control session enjoyed contributions from William Hudson, Ken Tuffin and Bo Melander.  These were 3 very different presentations.  Ken reported the work he is doing using a 6m flame-weeder to help manage post emergence weeds in his seed crops.  Ken’s presentation is available here. This is work in progress as he seeks to establish the viability of the approach given the cost of fuel and the slow working speeds.

William Hudson spoke about his experiences through the 2013 season working with the innovative CombCut weeder.

By his own admission the equipment struggled in a tough season as the work really started too late in the season when the weeds were too well established.  Hopefully spring 2014 will be more successful and we will be able to judge better the potential for this machine.

Bo Melander is a Associate Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark.  He has been working on the HiCrop project out there.  This project has been looking at the key factors that reduce incidence of perennial weeds.

Bo recommended:

  • mapping weeds on your farm to understand the worst problems
  • ensuring soils surfaces are level following cultivation and drilling to ensure following actions are successful
  • diversifying crop ration sequences to provide maximum weed control opportunities through the season
  • intensive cultivation including powered implements repeated regularly.  Soil structure will be effected and needs consideration.

If perennial weeds such as couch or creeping thistle average move than 1 incidence per M2 when mapping the field actions should be taken to reduce weed burdens even at the expense of crop yield to help ensure weed control.   The most effective technique is summer fallowing but this is the most extreme measure.  The next best approach is intensive summer cultivation following harvest followed by a short term green manure.

View Bo Melander’s presentation.

Both of these presentations had useful technical information for organic growers to consider and potentially apply to their farming systems.  Alongside this the conference is an excellent opportunity to network and discuss farming matters with fellow organic farmers and growers and meet processors and researchers.  It should be a “must attend” for all.


Pearce Seeds Organic Open Day

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Pearce Seeds Organic Variety Trails Event

Pearce Seeds are continually looking to improve varietal choice and agronomic procedures within the organic seed industry and have been involved with growing and producing organic seed since 2001.  On Tuesday June 3rd 2014 they are holding an Organic Open Day near Sturminster Newton, Dorset.  There is a varied programme for the event with the programme being repeated in both morning and afternoon with lunch provided.

The event will be an opportunity to look at cereal varietal choices with emphasis on regional suitability and in addition there are some demonstrations of the weed control techniques discussed at the Organic Producer Conference back in January and in our blog piece ORC Conference Reflections.  These demonstrations are of weed control through raking, a gas burner and a CombCut machine and there will be an opportunity to discuss what you have seen.   They are also offering the opportunity to look at organic vegetable production.

Finally, in a full programme there will be a presentation by Peter Melchett – Policy director with the Soil Association on the future of organic farming.

To book your place click here of or more information please contact:

Cass Sandy on 01935 389226 or


Armchair Farming

Have a look at this article featuring our member Jim Dufosee!

Marianne Landzettel – 26 March 2014
Jim DufoseeJim Dufosee on his farm

… is not a synonym for a journalist writing about agriculture. An organic farmer I recently met coined the phrase. Jim Dufosee raises sheep and beef cattle in Wiltshire and grows feed. When he switched to organic it wasn’t necessarily because he was one of the converted. Back then there were financial incentives to do so.

“Today I just know I’m doing the right thing”, he says, and he wouldn’t go back to conventional farming even if they paid him. When I asked him where his way of working had changed the most Jim hesitated a moment and then said: “I need to do a lot more armchair farming these days”.

“If you are a conventional farmer, no matter what your problem, there will be a chemical solution for it. Or at least that’s what the advisors will tell you”, says Jim.

“As an organic farmer I have to sit down and work out a solution for myself”. What Jim needs to figure out is what works on his farm, his land and for his animals. And sometimes the solution is: Jim has his cattle and sheep graze the same pastures in alternate years and that has brought the parasite numbers right down.

In a recent interview Doug Gurian-Sherman, a US scientist in the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) talked about GMO crops. A new generation, resistant to 2,4 D and Dicamba (better known as the active ingredients in ‘Agent Orange’, the de-leafing chemical used during the Vietnam war), are expected to be deregulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the near future.

“Growing food in a biologically and ecologically sound way is not what the (big agro-chemical) companies want”, Doug said. “It’s not a product intensive approach, it’s a knowledge intensive approach”. (Interview by Melinda Hemmelgarn, Food Sleuth podcast 17.02.2014) Farmers who know their stuff will manage pests through crop rotation and improve the soil quality with cover crops – measures that in conventional agriculture will reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Organic farmers have to figure out other ways of working in any case.

Hence more armchair farming is needed. In organic and conventional farming. And more independent research, done at universities and independent research institutes, not in the laboratories of Monsanto, Syngenta & Co – the solution is not another poison and a GMO crop that can take it.

Marianne is a journalist and broadcaster. Agriculture, food, farming and their interconnections are her passion. She’s co-written a book on urban agriculture, covering the US, the UK and South Asia. She has worked for the BBC World Service, and has been UK and Ireland correspondent for German public radio (where she started out as a reporter for the farming programme in the 1980s). Marianne is a Riverford veg box addict and doesn’t function without coffee

BBC Radio 4 on the Rise and Rise of the Microbakery

This was a great segment on the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme.   Have a listen!

Have Microbakery will Bake!


Children’s Diets Too Salty

Another great reason to bake your own bread and control salt and sugar levels!

Check out this article from