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Crop Advice & Expertise

Life as a Lincolnshire farmer: Q&A with award-winner Mark Ireland - Crop Focus TV: Episode 1

We hope you enjoy the first edition of CropFocusTV. We certainly had an interesting day with Mark Ireland. Watch out for the next edition coming your way – subscribe to our channel on YouTube for all our latest video content.

If you have any questions, please contact your local CTM or Tweet @Bayer4CropsUK.

Video Transcript

Hello and welcome to the first edition of CropFocusTV from Bayer. We’re here in Lincolnshire to see Mark Ireland. Let’s go and see what Mark’s up to in the field.

1.      Farmer Focus

Well Good Morning Mark. I was wondering if you could just tell us a brief history of the farm and how you came to get into farming?

I can Darren, yeah. As a family, we’ve been here since 1921, when we moved up from Thorney, near Peterborough. Not quite sure why we moved up from some nice land to what we’ve got now. I’m the fourth generation and we’ve just incorporated the fifth generation on the farm actually. I’ve been home, I went to Harper Adams in the 80s and yeah, been home since the mid 80s and just beginning to think that you know, one or two of those people I’ve worked with now for 30 odd years who’re beginning to retire and I’m beginning to think I’m getting on myself a bit now.

Oh, you’ve got a long way to go yet Mark! Now on a more light hearted note, what’s your favourite part of farming?

I have to say I’ve always done the combining on the farm, and father put me on when I was about a 12-year-old – probably shouldn’t be saying that should we? But I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at that point. We had 5 combines and I just followed everybody else. As time’s gone on I’ve continued to do it. We’re now down to only one combine but there is nothing better than actually, in my opinion, having grown a crop for a whole year, looked after it then combine it and you know, getting a decent yield. Conversely, there is nothing worse than having grown a crop for a whole year, suffered with drought and everything else and then face a whole month, 6 weeks, of combining poor crops.

Sure, sure.

So you get the highs and the lows.

I think of everything, I still do it, I’ve got a son who’s just come back on the farm, having done some combining himself, working away, he’s chomping at the bit to chuck me off now, but I’m resisting for the time being.

2.      Technical Focus

I see we are in a block of oilseed rape here. So how much rape do you grow on Grange Farm?

On average Matt, about 250 hectares, although that’s on the contract farms as well - slightly variable over the last few years with one or two problems that we’re experiencing in rape, and we’re extending the rotation a bit, but on average about 250 hectares.

Right, okay. Are there a wide range of varieties in there?

We tend to plump for hybrid varieties – once we get on to a variety that we’re happy with we stick with it. Last couple of years we’ve moved on to Aquila (a hybrid) and actually this year we’re just trying a bit of Campus to give us a bit of an example how a conventional grows on a farm again.

So, reasons behind going for a hybrid? What’s the sort of thinking behind that?

Very much after the vigour actually. We’ve changed the way we establish our crops on the farm now, we’ve gone from a more traditional way to putting men behind a tine on 450mm centres so I think hybrids have got a lot as far as the hybridness to them and vigour to get them established. In my opinion, if you can get your crop established, that’s half the battle won.

So, thinking as we’re in flowering, any plans as yet fungicide-wise for flowering sprays and thinking about LLS and Sclerotinia at that sort of time?

Yeah there’s a plan, but I think with all crops now you can have a plan but you don’t necessarily stick to it, so I’m fairly certain that we’ll be going through our rapes with one fungicide when historically not a bad farm for Sclerotinia, but I think the end of green bud going into early flowering we’d be going through with a prothio product and then I’d like to think, from a budget point of view, we’d be able to leave it at that, but clearly if the weather goes against us and it remains wet and there’s a requirement of two or three weeks later to go through again, we’d have to review it at that stage again.

We will be taking sclerotinia on board but as to actually how much we’re going to spend and how many times we go through it, that’s for the weather to dictate.

Do you normally aim for that first spray and potentially it could be your only spray? Do you always aim for a bit more robust rate that first spray?

Very much so, we’d be looking for half a litre of prothio and if that does the job I’d be relatively pleased with one application.

I think it all depends on the flowering window, the flowering period, if it’s a short flowering period, one application at a robust dose rate is going to see us through.

Mark, we’ve been discussing establishing the oilseed rape crop. Just on a broader crop range, there’s this issue with neonicotinoid seed treatments, what’s your view on the impending ban of neonicotinoid seed treatments?

It’s a difficult one Matt, isn’t it? I’m a farmer. I’ve sort of grown up with neonics, certainly with sugar beet, over the last 20 years and I see that they bring me huge advantages.

Certainly with the OSR over the last few years, there is no doubt it has made our control of some pests, very, very difficult, and you know, the establishment of crops. Much more risky. That said, I rely upon robust science.

I think as a farmer, at times I get quite confused because you’ve got one set of data saying that they’re bad and the other set saying that they’re good. So I will be very, very disappointed to see them go on all crops. Clearly from an oilseed rape point of view, we’re having to live without them now. I think it’s going to be very difficult with combinable crops to keep them and you know, it looks like sugar beet is under pressure as well. All we can do for now is write our letters and so forth of support.

From a sugar beet point of view, where we are reasonable sized growers, I think it’s going to take us back four or five years. I’m sure that technology will help us out if we lose neonics, but there’s going to be lag time until we get to that point, but it’s going to make the agronomy of our crops very much more difficult. Especially with the fact that we’ve lost so many other products over the last few years.

On the basis that you see an increased use of other insecticides to help with the loss of these neonicotinoids?

I’m sure there will be – you know we’ve seen that in oilseed rape. We have two beekeepers on the farm and they are relatively supportive of neonics, and of course they don’t like to see us going across our crops with pyrethroids - from a sugar beet point of view, of course, with nothing to replace it with anyway.

So it leaves it quite difficult and, combinable crops, yes we will have no option. We’ve been a while until we’ve turned to the Deter type products but we have over the last four or five years with the combinable crops but we’ll just have to go back with using the pyrethroids again. And there’s resistance there so problems all around.

Very broad-spectrum aren’t they as well?

Yeah, yeah very much so.

I’m just thinking in terms of sugar beet and virus yellows, there would be a significant impact from virus yellows without neonicotinoid seed treatment.

Well I do just remember the days where we didn’t have neonics and you know, out at 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock in the morning spraying little sugar beets about this big for aphids and I don’t want to go back to it. And clearly without a product we won’t go back to it but yes it will put the crop under pressure and it has been on our farm, the crop that has shown the most increases in yield as time goes on. And I think we’re very proud of the fact that we’ve worked with people like Bayer and been able to add yield to our crops and suddenly then there’s a potential for them to drop off the cliff, which will be very, very disappointing.

Well the crops are looking well Mark, looking really well.

They just want a bit of nitrogen though Matt.

Well it’s nice not to see a white field, it’s nice to see an actual crop.

3.      Top Tips from Mark Ireland

Hi Mark, you mentioned you tried a new, different establishment technique this year. Can you just explain a bit more about that? What you were doing previously vs. what you’re doing now, the new technique?

Well we’ve moved Matt. We were pretty traditional, the way we did things, we’d try and retain the straw on the farm if we can so that’s all chopped. And our old technique, was we’d put the Discordon through, so relatively deep tine, move it with some discs. We’d then come on and more than likely put a power harrowthrough it, then drill it and roll it afterwards so we’ve got sort of 4 operations in there.

We’ve now moved to a Terry Birch machine, which is locally-built, which has some relatively deep tines but low-disturbance ones, working at about 10 inches depth. That then has a roller behind it and then we’re putting the seed on actually through a coulter behind the roller at the back. So we’re taking out 4 operations and then with a cultipress that we’re putting over just to firm up the land and seed to soil contact after the TWB machine, we’re reducing that to two.

So, at the moment were very pleased with the way it’s gone; it has actually cut our establishment costs by a half and we’ll have to see how it goes next year.

4.      Hot Topic

I think with the changing weather we’re having, I think having more of a one-pass or minimal pass system, that’s potentially going to give you more flexibility with the weather patterns and things like that?

It does, although, and I don’t want to get political here but you know, we’re very much at the moment with government saying to us, you know, they’re supportive of min-till, they’re supportive of no-till. My opinion is one size does not fit all, I think I am, probably you as supporters of the sugar beet crop won’t be happy if we have to go to a min-till, no-till for establishing sugar beet as I think we’ll see yields plummet. I think there’s a place for different techniques but actually, as I say, no one size fits all. I think we do, we need to be versatile in the way that we establish all of our crops now.

5.      Future Focus

Okay, we’ve talked about your son coming back onto the farm. Do you have any inklings or ideas of what the farm may look like in the next 10 years say?

I have to say, I think the farm itself will look reasonably how it looks now, in a cropping sense. I don’t think we’re going to see big changes in what we’re growing. I think there will be further efficiencies made. We’ve moved over the last 5 or 6 years to GPS on all the tractors now. I still think we’re still going to have somebody sat in cabs, overseeing jobs but I think there will be more technical advances as far as, you know, what we’re putting onto the machines, into the tractors. I think we’ll probably see a few drones flying about, more so than we are now, doing jobs that are, you know, saving things that I’m doing such as all the agronomy on the farm. I’m still going to be doing that but I think there will be other things that are helping me to do that. So in essence, we’ll still be growing the same crops but hopefully we’ll be producing more of them in a more efficient way.

So you see that technology will advance to a stage where it reduces your costs of growing crops, is that what we’re saying or no?

Yeah no, I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to reduce the costs of the crops we grow because if you look at what the Secretary of State’s promoting at the moment as far as how farming will be supported in the ongoing years, you know, we’re going to have a drop in income which we’ve got to try and offset in some way. I’m slightly disappointed in the fact that he seems to think that we’ve got to increase productivity, you know – that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last 30 years, and I think fairly successfully in some crops. But you know, somehow we’ve got to try and grow them, more yield and cheaper, and technology will help us to do that.

Well, we hope you enjoyed the first edition of CropFocusTV. We certainly had an interesting day down here with Mark Ireland. And watch out for the next edition coming your way – subscribe to our channel on YouTube for all our latest video content.

If you have any questions, please contact your local CTM or Tweet @Bayer4CropsUK.