“On the whole we’ve been very lucky” – we catch up with Cambridgeshire grower Sam Morris

Publish on February 16, 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 spoke to Sam Morris, who farms in the southwest corner of Cambridgeshire.

E J Morris & Son, Top Farm, Croydon, Cambridgeshire

  • Area farmed: 260ha owned and a further 500ha on a contract basis
  • Soil types: Heavy clay on main farm, variable on other farms.
  • Key crops: Wheat, spring barley, spring beans
  • Typical rotation: First wheat – second wheat – third wheat – spring barley – spring beans
  • Main cultivations: Rotational ploughing to control blackgrass, minimum cultivation
  • RAGT varieties: RGT Bairstow

An earlier start to autumn drilling than normal appears to be paying off at Top Farm this season.

Wheats sown in the last week of September and early October went into very good seedbeds and are doing well considering the weather since then. Later wheats have struggled somewhat but should still make reasonable crops.

The policy of including a double spring break of barley followed by beans in the rotation, a tactic Sam introduced in 2018, has suppressed blackgrass enough to enable him to pull the farm’s drilling start date forward by two to three weeks compared with the previous wheat/OSR-based rotation.

Rotational ploughing helps further – while most land is min-tilled, spring barley and some second and third wheat stubbles are turned over as appropriate if the grassweed burden increases too much.

The whole approach works well. Spring barley is grown on profitable malting contracts, while beans, although less attractive financially, do make a good entry for wheat. “We look for and generally do get a good crop of first wheat, and second and third wheats do fairly well too,” adds Sam.

Safety net

“We now have a relatively risk-free system in place. I do like to have something in the ground early on – it provides a bit of a safety net in seasons like this.

“We can’t be drilling all our farm at the end of October – we’re on heavy soils and we just wouldn’t get it done in a normal season, let alone last autumn.

“Later-drilled crops were pretty tricky to establish as it was. We also have some pretty average headlands – I think we rolled too much to avoid damage from new blackgrass chemistry, but it does an amazing job and we have to use it.

“Having experienced some crop damage last season, we made the decision to consolidate seedbeds just before it got wet, but it was the wrong thing to do. But on the whole we’ve been very lucky – things could have been a lot worse.”

Sam is growing 35ha of RGT Bairstow, a high yielding Group 4 wheat that, along with other similar varieties, has been sold in the past for soft milling, securing a useful premium.

“It did OK last year, although it was the crop that suffered herbicide damage. This year it looks brilliant so far as a third wheat – it seems to perform well in this position.”

Looking ahead, Sam is keeping a keen eye on RAGT’s Genserus BYDV-resistant varieties. “These look very interesting, particularly as the trait is now appearing in commercially attractive varieties along with orange wheat blossom midge resistance, which is a must have as far as I am concerned.

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“No-one wants to spray insecticides more than we have to and these varieties also fit well with the SFI insecticide-free option, which is worth £45/ha. If we decide to go down that route and we can get hold of variety that suits our system at the right price, we will seriously consider growing BYDV-resistant wheats within the rotation.”

Back to the present and, with 40% of the ground destined for spring crops, Sam is hoping for a kind spring. “We’re a long way off drilling yet – things are still pretty wet.”

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