Wheatsheaf Farming Company, Hampshire
With the aim of increasing his soil’s ability to look after itself without chemical and mechanical intervention, David Miller embarked on a new system eight years ago – initially introducing cover crops followed by no-till drilling.
Since then, cover crop trials on the farm have enabled significant changes to be made to the species in its bespoke cover crop mixture and the cost of cover crops has halved from £40 to £20/ha.
Using cover crops and no-till has simplified the structure of work across the 730-hectare to the extent that apart from David, who manages the business, no full-time staff are employed by Wheatsheaf Farming Company – a non-profit making contracting company, owned by the farmers it contracts for. A self-employed arable craftsman assists with spraying and combining.
No potash has been spread for the last four years – phosphate is placed in the row as DAP and is down to 50kg/ha. Nitrogen application has been reduced by 10 per cent. Black-grass spraying in spring has been reduced and few winter wheat crops were sprayed this spring for broad-leaved weeds.
David believes there is great commercial pressure on farmers to buy fertiliser, chemicals and machinery and that it can be difficult to get independent information on how to take innovations forward.
He does biological soil testing for nematodes and fungi, looking at how different rotations and circumstances affect them and he has learned to stay away from brassicas as cover crops as they lead to slug problems.
Having faced a particularly challenging year, there were no spring crops drilled before April 16, five weeks behind normal, and that spring crops have been very variable. The ratio of spring to winter crops is 50:50 across the land he farms.