“We might not make a lot, but we’ll make something” – we catch up with Lincolnshire grower Ian Willox

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 chatted with Ian Willox, who farms with his son James a few feet above sea level near Lincoln.
  • CF & IG Willox, Birchwood Farm, Saxilby, Lincolnshire.
  • Area farmed: 260ha of owned land and contract work
  • Soil types: Blowing sand to clay
  • Key crops: Winter wheat, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, winter beans, sugar beet, miscanthus
  • Cultivations: Plough before winter barley and sugar beet. Other cultivations – as required.
  • RAGT varieties: RGT Grouse

Much of Birchwood Farm remains uncropped this autumn. Less than half the 260ha destined for winter crops was sown, and only around 40ha has a crop that is worth saving.

With virtually a year’s rainfall in the last four months of 2023, it’s surprising Ian managed to establish any crops at all.

“We sowed around 60 acres of winter barley,” he says. “About a third is OK, and we’ll probably keep about half the rest. We managed to drill 110 acres of wheat just before it rained – we’ll save maybe 40 acres.

RGT Grouse

“Most of this is RGT Grouse, a BYDV-resistant variety which we bought to access the insecticide-free crop option under SFI, and a bit of Champion. But there’s only about half left. It’s a shame – we were hoping to see how the Grouse performed and there were tonnes of aphids in the autumn, but it won’t be a fair test now.

“We’ve ploughed all the oilseed rape in. It just disappeared over the autumn due to flea beetle, slugs and standing water. What was left was eaten by pigeons – you name it, it had a go!”

Plan B

Ian has wasted no time putting plan B into action, and was able to buy enough  spring barley seed to drill all the failed OSR land and some wheat land.

RGT_Planet

“We have a big lump of imported seed on order, which looks like a good enough variety. We went for barley rather than spring wheat because we’ve combined that in October before now, and that mucks up another year if you’re not careful. And we have mills around here that want barley.

“We will also grow some spring beans. We were going to grow winter beans, but as luck would have it we couldn’t get any seed.”

Spring cultivations will be made on a field-by-field basis. Land that was drilled but failed is “pretty sad” and some of the wettest soil may not be drillable until May.

“If that’s the case we’ll leave it until it is dry enough to aerate it with the subsoiler, so we can get it back into better condition ready for next autumn,” he says.

Ian has managed to plough a good proportion of less wet land, including 16ha after beet land after Christmas. “We have subsoiler legs on the plough and it went reasonably well. But the remaining 10ha of beet is still in the ground.”

No-drill policy

Ian’s neighbour is considering not drilling any land this spring. That would be an additional hit for Ian, who does the drilling, spraying and top-dressing, as well as most of the combining.

“He’s wondering if it’s worth the cost of drilling and establishing crops. But, provided you can make a reasonable job of getting it in, I think a growing crop will draw more moisture out of the ground and make it easier to get ready for the following crop. That’s why we’re pushing on.

“And, if you grow something, at least you have something to sell, which makes you feel better. We might not make a lot, but we will make something. And we have enough nitrogen and some chemistry in store, so at least that’s paid for.”

SFI options

More recently, Ian has been going through SFI plans with a local adviser. “It looks like we’ll go for the no-insecticide payment on the Grouse and miscanthus, and plant an additional 4ha of that on the wettest land – it’s pretty resilient.

“And we have old entry level strips around fields – those bordering most internal drainage board dykes still have 6m strips. We also have plenty of awkward corners we’ve taken out.

‘We also look at soil and nutrient management plans, and we use variable rate applications for fertiliser and lime.

“When you start packing all these options together you can soon attract some cash. It won’t replace BPS but it will all help, especially in a season like this.”

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