Mother and son team Christy and Hew Willett will open their farm on Friday 23 June as they begin their three-year tenure as an AHDB Monitor Farm.
The Willetts farm 475ha farm of combinable crops at Parklands Farm in Galleywood, just outside Chelmsford, on a mixture of owned and rented land.
At this launch local farmers and the industry will get an introduction both to the Monitor Farm programme and to the farm. After a short presentation, there will be a tour of the farm and group discussions.
Christy said: “We wanted to become a Monitor Farm because we felt it would push us to improve. The Monitor Farm is something that makes you think and experiment. We’re keen to learn, and one of the best ways is to get together with other farmers.”
Hew added: “I’d like to focus on what we’re spending money on. I want to hear ideas from different people, for example what they think about our machinery policy. Nothing anyone says is right or wrong – it’s all valuable.”
Flexibility has become a vital part of the Willetts’ system since 2012, when the bad weather led them to replace their second winter wheat with spring barley. Now they make rotation decisions on a field-by-field basis, depending on grass weed pressures and the condition of the field.
Their rotations typically include two wheats, spring beans, oilseed rape, spring barley and spring oats. Most of the barley goes for malting locally and the wheat for breadmaking.
“We usually get a good, reliable market for the crop. Even if the premiums have fallen slightly, it’s still worth our while to grow and sell the milling varieties,” Christy said.
Christy and Hew see their greatest challenge as keeping their cost of production as low as possible without sacrificing yield.
Hew said: “At the end of the three years we want to have a much better handle on our costs. To do this we’d like to be much more precise and to also use the information from mapping better so that we get the most out of it.”
Christy and Hew, along with all of the other farmers in the Monitor Farm programme will be using AHDB’s new Farmbench system to measure and analyse their farm business costs, and compare them confidentially within groups of local farmers.
Teresa Meadows, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Knowledge Exchange Manager for East Anglia, said: “Farmers who attend the launch on 23 June will have the opportunity to analyse the farm business at Parklands Farm and identify the key issues that they think need to be addressed during the three years of the programme. This will help to ensure that the meetings are valuable to local arable and mixed farm businesses.”
AHDB’s Monitor Farm programme has been running in England and Wales for three years, and now forms a vital part of the levy organisation’s Farm Excellence Platform. There are 30 Monitor Farms in the UK, spread from the Shetland Isles to Truro.