Mark's making the most of what he's got
Several businesses operate from Waterloo Farms, near Scotch Corner, but the main priorities are the arable rotation and the ‘bed and breakfast’ pigs, which are a new venture, as Wendy Short found out.
WATERLOO Farms is managed by Mark Turnbull and his mother Julie, along with Mark’s wife, Emma. As well as producing crops on their own farmland, the family also provides contracting services for several local holdings and runs an industrial cleaning business.
Contractors are only brought on to the home farm for muck spreading and baling.
The arable rotation comprises wheat, barley and oilseed rape, with spring beans used as a break crop. Cultivations are carried out on a system which uses the plough for initial seedbed preparation, but limits further cultivations to the top few inches of the soil, which varies from a sandy clay loam to heavy clay over magnesium limestone.
As well as spreading the farmyard manure from the pigs, the farm has also brought in chicken manure for the past five years and this has brought a noticeable improvement in soil structure.
First wheat yields currently stand at four tonnes/acre, with the crop grown for feed. This year’s varietal portfolio includes the old favourite, Claire, along with Revelation and Reflection.
Meanwhile, feed barley yields vary between 3.1 and 3.4 tonnes/acre. Cassia is the only barley variety being grown this season; a six-row type was sown as an experiment, but was discontinued due to a fall in target bushel weights.
The oilseed rape (Palmedor and Ergo) averages two tonnes/acre, but the high input costs have prompted Mr Turnbull to replace some of the acreage with Fuego spring beans, which perform a similar function as a break.
These have given a yield advantage of 0.75 to 1.25 tonnes/acre when preceding a first wheat and a spring-drilled crop also helps to spread the workload, he points out.
“All of the cereal seed that we use is home-saved, with a company brought in to treat it and bag it up,” explains Mr Turnbull.
“This saves on costs and therefore we can use high seed rates, which is something I favour; the cereal seed rate will vary annually from 230-250kgs/ha.
“Spring weather has changed over the years and conditions seem to be either very dry or very wet; neither situation will promote good establishment. A high seed rate will produce better yields, in my opinion.
“You can starve a good crop, but if there are too few plants, then harvest is likely to be disappointing.”
The beans are sold to Frontier for human consumption.
“Ploughing and drilling early ahead of the beans is important to ensure good yields and quality and an early harvest,” says Mr Turnbull.
“After that, the main consideration is to spray the beans with an insecticide, to prevent damage by the bruchid beetle, which will lead to a loss of premium and having to sell for animal feed.
“I have also learned to avoid cracking the beans during the drying process. As long as the target quality specification can be achieved, their profitability is comparable with oilseed rape, without the same high level of investment. ”
Like many other farms, Waterloo has a minor problem with blackgrass and it is hoped that the addition of spring beans to the rotation will help to bring the weed under control.
“We have a few small pockets of blackgrass on the farm,” he admits. “There seems to be no pattern to its appearance and it tends to grow in clumps. The larger areas are sprayed with Roundup and the remainder are hand-rogued, because the chemical resistance issue is very serious.
“Every effort is made to keep the machinery clean and free of blackgrass seeds and at harvest, the infested patches are left until last, with the machines stripped with a blower after use.”
Mr Turnbull feels fairly optimistic about the future.
“Our land is productive and it helps that we have always had a mix of enterprises.
“We dry and store all of our crops at home and the majority are marketed through Frontier from November until March; we also store oilseed rape on contract,” he says.
“The arable enterprises are performing reasonably well at present and there is little we can do about Brexit, aside from keeping the land in good order and trying to maximise yields.
“Land prices are so high that expansion is not a realistic option; our aim is to make more of our existing assets.
“If farm support is reduced or removed, our income from the pigs, the storage and the industrial income will become even more crucial.”
He adds: “In the meantime, we need to maintain a programme of investment in the businesses and keep moving forward.”
MR Turnbull is assisted in his contracting business, which provides a range of operations, by one full-time worker, taking on three full-time members of staff over the summer.
YET another activity on the farm is the family’s industrial maintenance business, Instore Solutions, which is run by Emma. It offers industrial cleaning, maintenance (including shot blasting and machinery painting), and factory and warehouse floor painting.
BED AND BREAKFAST PIGS
THE pig enterprise is a new introduction at Waterloo, with the first batch of pigs arriving in late 2017.
Housed in a set of buildings formerly used to rear bull beef, they are delivered weighing about 35-45kgs and leave the farm at 120kgs, which is bacon weight, on a 12-week cycle.
The farm uses home-produced straw as bedding, with feed supplied by the herd owner. It takes Mark and one full-time employee two hours to feed, clean and bed up the pigs daily.