It’s the million dollar question – just how do you make an arable enterprise financially sustainable? AHDB farmer Mark Chandler posed the question at the launch of the Petworth Monitor Farm, Sussex, earlier this month.

He said: “We don’t want to subsidise the arable farm with our diversified businesses – it’s got to be financially viable on its own.”

Mark runs Moor Farm near Petworth and his enterprises includes a business park, carp-rearing fisheries and a small livery yard.

One of his main arable challenges, Mark said, was to minimise the impact of varying soil types.

“Our soils are extremely variable across farms and within fields, ranging from heavy clay loam over weald clay to green sand. We are starting to ask ourselves whether our simple rotation – winter wheat, oilseed rape, winter wheat and spring beans or spring barley – is fit for the future.”

A long break between oilseed rape crops would help Mark, but he feels limited by a lack of spring cropping land, a high grass-weed burden and no livestock in the rotation.

It’s not just financial sustainability Mark wants for his business, however. He has a crucial, highly skilled team running the farm.

Mark said: “We are highly committed to ensure the staff’s future remains part of our business.”

Priorities for the future

Local farmers at the Monitor Farm launch meeting reviewed Mark’s business, then set out the topics they would like to see discussed during the three years of the farmer-led Monitor Farm project.

The list included:

  • Crop establishment;
  • Robust and efficient rotations;
  • The benefits of cover cropping, including effective grass weed control;
  • Farming after Brexit without subsidies;
  • Integrating livestock into arable rotations to increase business robustness;
  • Incorporating environmental husbandry;
  • Integrated pest management to reduce variable and fixed costs;
  • Reducing costs with compromising yield;
  • Efficiency of nutrients;
  • Biostimulants;
  • Precision farming.

All the discussions at Petworth Monitor Farm – financial, agronomical and more – will be underpinned using AHDB’s Farmbench programme.

Paul Hill, AHDB knowledge exchange manager for the South East, said: “Benchmarking is a fundamental concept in business improvement: it brings together like-minded and progressive farmers in an open yet confidential environment.

“The Monitor Farm will help farmers to question how they can progress their businesses in the future.”

About the farm

Mark Chandler runs Moor Farm at Petworth in West Sussex in partnership with his father Richard, managing a total of 1,285ha including Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies, Farm Business Tenancy agreements, contract farming agreements and stubble-to-stubble contracting.

He grows spring malting barley, oilseed rape, spring beans and winter wheat on loam over weald clay soil with some sandy clay loam.

The farm has been in non-inversion tillage for 20 years, and Mark continually works towards moving less soil. He wants to improve his current farm practices to increase his productivity.