“It’s the best decision I’ve made financially this year” – we catch up with Yorkshire grower Andrew Cawood

Publish on March 26, 2024
Reading time : < 1 min
We know how our varieties perform in trial but what’s even more important is how they perform on farm, and that’s where our Growers Club comes in.We recently caught up with Andrew Cawood, who farms 240ha of owned land near South Milford.

A & S M Cawood, Burley House Farm, South Milford, North Yorkshire

Area farmed: 240ha

Soil types: Sandy silt loam to silty clay loam, over magnesium limestone.

Key crops: Winter wheat (feed), winter barley (feed), spring barley (malting), winter oilseed rape, spring beans. Land rented for vining peas and potatoes.

Typical rotation – First wheat, second wheat/barley, break (flexible, depending on soil type and weather).

Cultivations: Varying, depending on soil type and weather.

RAGT varieties: Wheat: RGT Bairstow.

 

Last years’ wet harvest and its immediate aftermath left Andrew wondering how to put his cropping back on track.

After a lot of thought and a sixth sense about what last autumn had in store, he decided to rent out a third of his farm and concentrate on getting the most profitable crops in the ground in the best shape he could.

“We went on holiday in July. When we passed my largest field on the train, all the wheat was standing. When we passed it coming back, it was all flat to the floor, as was just about everything else on the farm.

“All our yields were disappointing and we made a mess with the combine and the baling.

“In addition, I couldn’t get another contract for rye myself, so I decided to rent that land out; 30ha will be grown for another rye contract, 16ha for potatoes and 30ha for peas. It’s a big area, but it’s the best move financially I’ve made this year.”

Most of the remaining cropping has gone in reasonably well. Andrew and his assistant Neil started with 30ha of oilseed rape on 21 August.

“It’s generally all there – we’re one of the rare birds around here. Five years ago we would have been disappointed by it, but this year we’re happy enough,” says Andrew.

“Some of the second racemes have larvae but they are not currently in the main stems, so fingers crossed we’ll be all right.”

Wheat drilling began on 15 September. Overall, 43ha of first wheat and 29ha of second wheat was established.

“The first wheats look tremendous – it’s just how the land has fallen – but about half the second wheat drilled on 9 October failed.

“We’ve also lost a hectare of headlands in the other half, which is RGT Bairstow, but I have to say the rest looks OK after a pretty tough test. The variety is doing very well as a second wheat and I think we’ll keep growing it in that slot.

“The last wheat was sown on 25 November after potatoes, after ploughing, and its looks OK.”

All 14ha of winter barley was sown at the end of September. “One field looks good, the other will do,” says Andrew.

That leaves 12ha of spring barley to sow in the coming few weeks. “The ground’s all ploughed, but the seed is still in the bag. We are approaching the cut-off, which history tell me is the second or third week of April.”

Despite the relatively good autumn cropping, Andrew predicts the farm will lose money this year, and won’t look too good next year.

“That said, the failed second wheat will become an early first wheat next autumn. It has water standing on it and it’s wet through, so I won’t get it planted this season.

“We’ll also have 30ha of early-drilled wheat after OSR and the same again after peas. So next year I should at least make a profit – if you can’t make any money on first wheat, the job’s knackered.”

Andrew is wondering whether to increase his second wheat area. “My first wheats are on very good land this year, so do I put them into wheat again? But we do need to think about the future rotation as well.

“Perhaps the answer is just to grow first wheats and then use SFI options as breaks. But I’ve heard Defra might be considering limiting the amount of whole-field options on any one farm, which creates too much uncertainty for my liking.

“And if I did do something radical and take land out of production I still can’t earn the money I used to do under the basic payment, so who’s gaining?

“I’m in the pilot SFI scheme and I’m also in countryside stewardship, so I’m trying to fit it all together. I’m claimed for some business resilience funding, so I’ve employed a firm to assess my breakeven figures so we can choose the most suitable options for the farm. We’ll see what happens.”

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