AHDB launches new Monitor Farm near Canterbury

Trying new methods, techniques and a desire to take on new challenges lay behind grower Will Smith’s decision to join AHDB’s Farm Excellence network.

His farm has just become the newest addition to the Monitor Farm network and will host the new Canterbury Monitor Farm, in the South East.

“This is an interesting time for agriculture,” said Smith. “As farmers, we have to contend with the loss of actives, replacement of the basic payment scheme, as well as broader issues such as the ongoing political uncertainty.

We can either choose to bury our heads in the sand or see them as challenges to be overcome.

Describing himself as an innovative grower, Smith is a practising agronomist and contract farmer.

Smith farms 768ha, of which 678 is arable cropping. He grows a diverse range of crops, including milling wheat, oilseed rape, beans and maize. Beaute Farm also features a beef and sheep enterprise, as well as a straw and hay business.

Having already attended Monitor Farm meetings in Sittingbourne, Smith is familiar with the programme and believes it plays a key role in bringing growers together.

“During one of the meetings at Sittingbourne, I had a conversation with another farmer about companion cropping, which led to us coming up with some new ideas,” he said.

“The events are invaluable for bouncing ideas off each other.”

Located close to Britain’s east coast, the farm spans chalk loam soils, brick earth and heavy clay. Smith is currently aiming for minimal soil disturbance through direct drilling.

He uses specialist equipment to drill directly into a variety of crop aftermaths and mulches including his cover crops.

Smith added: “I really want to improve direct drilling and see if what we’ve been doing is both viable and profitable. I’d like to be able to integrate this with our nitrogen use. I’m interested in learning more about nitrogen fixation in wheat.”

Rotations

When it comes to rotational strategy, Smith exercises a degree of flexibility, preferring to choose different options depending on the year. Previously, oilseed rape and wheat featured heavily.

The farm’s location in a low rainfall area meant that wheat gave the best margins. However, from 2015 onwards, Smith branched out due to declining yields and a worsening blackgrass problem to include a mixture of autumn and spring crops over a four-or-five-year rotation.

Beaute Farm replaces the Sittingbourne Monitor Farm from June 20. It joins Freefolk Farms, near Basingstoke, and Moor Farm, in Petworth, as the cereals and oilseeds monitor farms in the South East.

AHDB knowledge exchange manager for the region Paul Hill said: “It’s great to have Will on board. He is innovative and happy to try new ideas and strategies to develop his farming business so it remains robust, viable and ethically sustainable for the future.

I am positive that over the next three years, we will be having some very interesting and thought-provoking meetings that in turn will beneficially assist Will’s business as well as promoting ideas for everyone who attends.

Part of AHDB’s Farm Excellence programme, Monitor Farms bring together groups of farmers interested in improving their businesses by sharing best practice around a nationwide network of host farms.