15th January 2015- Dr Dwayne Beck, BASE UK meeting

Today I spent the day listening to Dr Dwayne Beck of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, South Dakota at a BASE UK (www.base-uk.co.uk ) meeting in Baldock, Hertfordshire.

dakota lakes

Dr Beck’s main interest is in no till, cover crops and especially rotations. During the day he highlighted the importance of very diverse rotations including stacked rotations. He highlighted the importance of having a rotation containing warm season broadleaves and grasses and cool season broadleaves and grasses. He also emphasised the importance of having a two year gap between crop types not just one, which is commonplace here. For example: winter wheat, maize, spring peas, Winter OSR, Winter Barley, Spring Oats, spring linseed, Winter Beans. The above rotation is very complex and may not be practical but it has 2 broadleaf crops followed by 2 cereals but also two winter crops followed by two spring crops. The idea is that it allows you 2 years to get on top grass weeds in the broadleaf part of the rotation and 2 years to get on top of BLW in the cereal part of the rotation. The mixing between drilling dates and harvest dates stops predictability, so weeds are always guessing along with insects and disease. This type of approach has been shown to dramatically reduce weed pressure and also input costs.


Also Dr Beck talked about seed balls. The this is where you coat seeds in a clay substance and then broadcast the seed so need for a drill. The idea is the coating makes the seed weatherproof and more likely to germinate, which is always a problem with broadcasting. I like the idea of no drill. It would be the end of the “which drill is best debate”, hallelujah!!

Dr. Beck is also experimenting with intercropping. He is growing forage corn and forage soyabean together. Also Corn with a living mulch of Alfalfa. My ears really pricked up at this point as this is what I am studying on my Nuffield. Dr. Beck has kindly offered to show me around Dakota Lakes farm so off to South Dakota I am going!

Www.dakotalakes.com is the research farm’s website and there is a lot of information on this site in the publications section. Well worth a read. Overall a productive day spent with 100 other like minded people.



8th January 2015, Meeting my sponsors HGCA

Today I spent the day at Stoneleigh in AHDB-HGCA’s fancy new headquarters. The idea of the day was for me to get to know the HGCA team and for them to get to know me. I spent the morning with R@KT team chatting about myself! It was good to find out too that the leader of the R@KT team Dr Susannah Bolton used to study intercropping and the HGCA want to research companion cropping and intercropping. So hopefully my study will help with these aims.

After lunch I was interviewed by Eleanor Perkins on video which will hopefully be on the HGCA website soon (www.HGCA.com). Then I was shown around the building by Dr Vicky Foster. Overall all an interesting day with good contacts made and hopefully the start of a productive working relationship.

Thanks again to HGCA for sponsoring my Nuffield Scholarship

16/12/2014, First Official Visit – Mark Hemmant of Agrovista

My official first trip of my Nuffield scholarship involved grappling with the motorway system at 5.30am and it was shut! So country route it was for the last part of my journey. My destination was Farmcare in Leicestershire to see the Agrovista Companion cropping trials with Mark Hemmant, Technical Manager, as my host. In their trials Agrovista are experimenting with different establishment techniques, seeding rates and seeding mixtures with interesting results.


Mark prefers using Berseem clover as a companion due to its deep rooting properties where is I a few years ago struggled to get Berseem clover established. They have reduced seeding rates down to as low as 5 kg per hectare and still seen an advantage from companion cropping. When seeding rates are down to 5kg/ha the seed is applied in the  OSR row at drilling compared to higher rates of companion seeds being broadcast.In fact they have found that there are more advantages to having seeding rates low compared to high due to the higher seedrates possibly competing with the Oilseed Rape.They have found better establishment from companion cropping, this they think it’s due to less slug problems. Also they have seen OSR rootneck increase in size in companion cropping and last year seen a yield advantage of up to half a ton hectare in companion cropping compared to without. They were also comparing establishment techniques of companion cropping and they found that the best established achieved from broadcasting was with spreading of the companion seed before drilling and tickling the seed in with an adaption on the drill.

After visiting Farmcare we went for lunch. We started at MacDonald’s for adrink  and then went to a local pub for big plate of pie and veg! If this is how my lunchtimes are going to be on my Nuffield visits then I may need to run another marathon!

After lunch we visited Agrovista’s cover crop and blackgrass trial. At this site agrovista trialling the use of cover crops with species of vetch and black oats to control blackgrass by drilling a little bit later to allow one flush blackgrass before drilling and then drilling the oats at low seed rates which allows the blackgrass to come through with the cover crop.


The idea is that you get blackgrass growing with the cover crop and this helps lower the black grass seed bank. They have had success and have achieved lower blackgrass emergence in the following spring cereal compared to multiple overwinter stale seedbeds. The interesting plot for me was an early drilled mix with Phacelia. This had virtually no blackgrass growing in the bottom. It will be interesting to see which plots are cleanest in the spring crop.

It was interesting first official visit and many thanks to Mark for taking the day to show me around.

25th November 2014, National Soil Symposium

This was a last minute decision to go to the National Soil symposium:


The Organic sector are having to find novel methods of controlling weeds, pests and diseases as they can not use many pesticides. I hoped being at a conference with a few hundred farmers and researchers I might get some ideas and meet people involved in companion cropping. I was not disappointed. I met Dr Henry Creissen of the Organic Research Centre (www.organicresearchcentre.com) and hope to visit to Wakelyns later this year to see the work they are doing. He also told me about the OSCAR project which is a worldwide research project (@THEOSCARProject). This will hopefully lead to many useful contacts around the world.

I also met John Falconbridge of Western Seeds (www.westernseeds.com). Western Seeds market combi-crops which are intercrops of cereals and legumes. Exactly what I am looking to study, so hopefully John and I can continue our long chat another day.

Overall it was well worth spending four hours there and back in the car to get to this conference and I look forward to following up the contacts I made.

19th-21st November 2014, Nuffield 2014 Conference

After a long journey (5 minutes!) I reached the Ashford International Hotel with Philippa and Charlie. Yes we bought a six week old baby to the pre-conference briefing, maybe a first! He was very well behaved and so was Philippa. It was the first time I met the rabble below:


The group of Nuffield Scholars 2015 will be a group of people I get to know very well over the next couple of years and hopefully become life long friends. After the briefing day we went to the bar to get to know each other better over a few beers.

The next couple of days was spent listening to all the 2013 scholars presentation, with my friend Tom Sewell going last (Tom inspired me to do a Nuffield and as a thank you I have hired him as my unofficial mentor, I just haven’t told him yet!). It bought home the enormity of the challenges and tasks ahead but also great excitement of the adventures to be had. We were also presented with our awards, handed to us by The Duke of Gloucester. I was on stage with Jonathon Tipples the Chairman of the HGCA, my sponsor.