How do you make an arable enterprise financially sustainable?

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Farmer Mark Chandler posed this question at the launch of AHDB’s Petworth Monitor Farm, Sussex, earlier this month.

Mark said: “We don’t want to subsidise the arable farm with our diversified businesses – it’s got to be financially viable on its own.”

Mark runs Moor Farm near Petworth and his enterprises includes a business park, carp-rearing fisheries and a small livery yard.

One of his main arable challenges, Mark said, was to minimise the impact of varying soil types.

“Our soils are extremely variable across farms and within fields, ranging from heavy clay loam over weald clay to green sand. We are starting to ask ourselves whether our simple rotation – winter wheat, oilseed rape, winter wheat and spring beans or spring barley – is fit for the future.”

A long break between oilseed rape crops would help Mark, but he feels limited by a lack of spring cropping land, a high grass-weed burden and no livestock in the rotation.

It’s not just financial sustainability Mark wants for his business, however. He has a crucial, highly skilled team running the farm.

Mark said: “We are highly committed to ensure the staff’s future remains part of our business.”

Local farmers at the Monitor Farm launch meeting reviewed Mark’s business, then set out the topics they’d like to see discussed during the three years of the farmer-led Monitor Farm project.

The list included:

Crop establishment
Robust and efficient rotations
The benefits of cover cropping, including effective grass weed control
Farming after Brexit without subsidies
Integrating livestock into arable rotations to increase business robustness
Incorporating environmental husbandry
Integrated pest management to reduce variable and fixed costs
Reducing costs with compromising yield
Efficiency of nutrients
Biostimulants
Precision farming
All the discussions at Petworth Monitor Farm – financial, agronomical and more – will be underpinned using AHDB’s Farmbench programme.

Paul Hill, AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager for the South East, said: “Benchmarking is a fundamental concept in business improvement: it brings together like-minded and progressive farmers in an open yet confidential environment.

“The Monitor Farm will help farmers to question how they can progress their businesses in the future.”

Visit cereals.ahdb.org.uk/Petworth to find out more about this Monitor Farm.

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