This month we catch up with Bedfordshire arable operator Matt Fuller
• Heathcote Farms, Herne Manor Farm, Toddington, Bedfordshire
• Area farmed: 1150 hectares
• Soil types: Mainly heavy clay (Hanslope series), greensand on one smaller unit
• Key crops: Winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter/spring barley, winter/spring beans, spring peas, winter and spring oats, cover crops.
• Typical cultivations: Minimum cultivations (tines/discs as required)
• RAGT varieties: RGT Illustrious
Matt Fuller is waiting for land to dry before applying nutrition and post-emergence herbicides on the wheat.
“Our autumn crops were all drilled by 10 October, so we are in a decent position at the moment. A lot of people were hit by exceptional rainfall further north and east, and we really feel for them.
“We’re fortunate that by extending rotations and expanding our range of crops, among other things, blackgrass levels are now low enough that we can start drilling a bit earlier than some. Also, the dirtier blocks this year are all going into break crops, which worked in our favour.”
These include 180ha of oilseed rape and 130ha of winter barley. “The barley gives us the option to do any cultivations that are needed ahead of oilseed rape and drill when conditions are right,” says Matt.
“Good seedbed and moisture levels are critical factors. We started sowing OSR on 10 August and finished on Bank Holiday, helping to spread the risk when the beetle migration does occur.
“The rape looks really well, with enough moisture and sludge underneath. Come February and March it could go backwards if stems are full of larvae, but we’ll see – we had pockets of beetle infestation but the crop seemed to grow away from them.”
Around 500ha of winter wheat is in the ground, split between Groups 1 varieties RGT Illustrious and Crusoe, and Group 2s Extase and Palladium.
“We have tried other Group 1s but they weren’t consistent enough – how do you budget for two years average and one year good? When we first looked at RGT Illustrious in 2020, we wanted reliability, like we had with Crusoe, which produces good quality and, while it may not set the world alight, its yield is consistent.
“Illustrious is now a key Group 1 for us. It likes heavy land and we have found it performs well after oats.”
The variety lived up to its reputation for excellent quality grain last season, achieving 287 Hagberg, 13.7% protein and 79.7kg/hl specific weight, compared with Crusoe’s 247/14/77.3 specification.
RGT Illustrious yielded 10.3t/ha on lighter land and 12.2t/ha on heavier soil, both after oats, pretty much neck and neck with Crusoe after beans or peas.
“We treated them pretty much the same when it comes to inputs. We tend to drill earlier and can produce thick biomass crops, so downside of that is a nice microclimate for disease,” says Matt.
“We use a robust four-spray programme and are fairly rigid on windows – we don’t overly rely on chemical persistence and we pick blocks of land that will travel. And, because we are growing Group 2s with better resistance scores, we can prioritise the Group 1s.”
Matt will continue with RGT Illustrious until something better comes along. One area of particular interest is RAGT’s BYDV-resistant wheats, especially quality wheats in the pipeline that also have resistance to orange wheat blossom midge resistance.
“Aphid pressure tends to show near rivers and low-lying areas,” says Matt. “BYDV can be very damaging, so if thresholds are met we will treat it. This year has been so mild it’s not hard to find aphids – they may not all carry disease but we can’t risk it.
“BYDV resistance would give us one less thing to worry about, particularly as we are early drilling, and there’s the environmental aspect. We don’t want to spray insecticides unless we have to – the last thing we want is to harm beneficials, particularly in fields destined for OSR in next year as we want to maintain beneficials to help with flea beetle control.
“If we can get a Group 1 or 2 that you don’t have to spray with insecticides that has decent yield and quality, it’s going to be massive for growers and end users. We’d certainly want to try some at the earliest opportunity!”