Chris Papworth

“I can see things changing all the time,” says Chris Papworth. “Take black-grass for instance, it’s always been an issue on heavy land, but we’ve been able to chemically control it very well. Now we’ve encountered high levels of resistance on our farm, as a lot of people have; certain chemicals are becoming next to useless. Five years ago that wouldn’t have been the case.”

Chris manages just over 600 hectares of combinable crops at Little Staughton Farms in Bedfordshire, including oilseed rape, wheat, spring barley and beans. He has a positive attitude to the changing nature of agriculture, “you have to adapt the way you work,” he says simply. “The can is not the answer any more, it can be part of the process, but you have to use cultural controls too; we’ve used lots of different cultivations, rotations and later drilling dates. It takes effort and commitment from everyone on the farm to get it right. It has helped dramatically, I can see improvement and we’re on the right track, but there’s still a way to go before the whole farm is at an acceptable level.”

It is not just a change of technique that is required to manage challenges such as black-grass, but also of mindset. “Whereas we used to plan our budgets over a year, now we have to do it over two or three years as you have to bear in mind the black- grass implications in following seasons,” he explains. “If you put all your effort into growing the best possible crop in year one, you are going to increase your black-grass population dramatically, creating a knock on effect in years two and three, so you have to take a much longer term view.”

Chris Papworth

Chris Papworth

He is supported in his work by agronomist Andrew Havergal. “Andrew has a wealth of knowledge. As my career has progressed and moved into farm management, I’ve been more involved in the agronomy and he’s definitely up there as one as one of the best agronomists that I’ve worked with. He’s got a very good knowledge and is very informative. He’s a big help for me when it come to making decisions on the farm.”

Andrew knows the farm extremely well, and Chris appreciates that Andrew has worked with him to understand exactly what he wants to achieve. “He is aware that I want to get the most out of the crops in the ground,” states Chris, “but then in a year like this, when profit margins are extremely tight, it can make for tough decisions. You want your crops to achieve their full potential, but equally, you can’t spend money without thinking because you’re not going to make a lot of profit from it. It helps to work with someone who understands those decisions.”

" Frontier has been really good at arranging collections early in the morning, before we go out on the combine. They understand how busy we are and always try to fit around us. " - Chris Papworth

Good communication is vital for the smooth running of any business and Chris values the efficient service he receives not only from Andrew, but also from the logistics team at Frontier. “When the wheat is due to go out, we are always contacted in good time to see if it is convenient. Once the arrangements have been made, the drivers always ring beforehand to confirm they’ll be here at a certain time.” This is especially important at busy times of year, he explains. “We grow seed wheat for Frontier and that goes out quite early, so often we are still harvesting when it needs to be collected.”

When Chris arrived at the farm they were already working with SOYL to variably apply their phosphate, but he was keen to expand the use of precision crop production. “We’ve got a new drill coming soon and that will give us the ability to do some variable rate drilling. It’s something that I have wanted to try since I came to the farm, so I’m really looking forward to giving it a go now that we have the right equipment.”

Chris has worked closely with Peter Croot from SOYL and so far conductivity surveys have been carried out on around a third of the farm. The conductivity of soil relates closely to the clay content, soil depth and moisture content, all of which are important factors in seedbed creation. From that information a variable seed rate map can be produced.

“We’ll measure our success by doing some crop counts to see if we’re meeting our target number of plants per square metre,” explains Chris. “We’re hoping that variable drilling will give us an even establishment, and if we see from the plant count that has definitely happened, then we will expand the variable seed rate across the rest of the farm.”

He has also started using MyFarm which he finds saves time and effort. “When Andrew and I meet we can do the recommendation there and then in the field on his iPad. He sends it over to me and when I’m ready to go out I download the plan, do that application and then it is stored. It makes my office work so much more economical. It’s also great from a compliance angle too. It shows exactly what kind of chemical you’ve used on which field and when you did it, so from a legal point of view it’s all there in black and white, and you can see exactly where you are. It saves us a lot of time.”

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