Strategic Cereal Farm East

Brian Barker
Stowmarket, Suffolk
Farm sectors:
Cereals & Oilseeds
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About Strategic Cereal Farm East

  • E.J. Barker & Sons has hosted the Strategic Cereal Farm East since November 2017
  • Brian Barker and his cousin, Patrick, run E.J. Barker & Sons, a family farm partnership and contracting business in Suffolk dating back to 1957
  • The family owned 513ha arable farm business is farmed on a traditional 12- year rotation, incorporating winter wheat for feed, herbage grass seed and break crops of spring barley, beans, oilseed rape or linseed
  • Environmental consideration is crucial to the running of the business and remains a key factor in all decision-making on farm


A weather station at the Strategic Cereal Farm East has captured temperature and rainfall data for growing seasons from 2019 to 2021.

Temperature and rainfall at Strategic Cereal Farm East from 2019-2021

Strategic Farm East on-farm trials

Managed lower inputs

Testing the cost-benefit of different fungicide input programmes.

Key results to date:

  • Harvest 2019, 2020 and 2021 have been low disease pressure seasons
  • Results in 2019 and 2020 have shown that growing more resistant varieties with a low input regime gave the best net margin
    • There was a minimal yield response to increasing fungicide spend on the resistant varieties with the low inputs, showing the best net margins.
    • Highest percentage of septoria seen on the most susceptible variety, Santiago
    • More resistant varieties (i.e. Graham and Siskin) tended to hold onto green leaf area for longer
  • In 2021 the results showed that managing inputs should not involve completely dropping applications in a sequence
    • A lower T1 application was appropriate, but using stronger chemistry later in the season at T3 was necessary
    • Low input levels were generally associated with a better gross margin, the trial had low levels of disease
    • The most expensive programme supported the highest yielding crop, but it was not the most profitable approach

Find out more information:

Cover crops and water quality 

Water sampling from land drains in the baselining year of the Strategic Cereal Farm East showed the benefits of using cover crops to improve water quality. This split field trial tests the use of an over-winter cover crop versus over winter-plough and over-winter stubble on land before a spring crop and its effect on soil health and water quality. The cover crop’s effect on subsequent crops in the rotation is assessed by measuring nitrogen uptake and losses, changes to soil health and crop yields.

Key results to-date:

  • The results demonstrate that a well-established cover crop is effective at taking up nitrogen and improving water quality by reducing nitrate concentrations in drainage water to below 50mg/l.
  • Reductions in spring crop yields following cover crops in harvest 2020 were observed.  These were likely to be as a result of poor spring crop establishment (combination of slug damage and traffic on wet soil conditions)
  • When choosing the right cover crop for your system, it is important to take into consideration:
  1. Overall aim of cover cropping
  2. Soil type
  3. Rotational conflicts (e.g. carryover of pests and diseases)
  4. Timing & method of cover crop sowing and destruction

Find out more information:

Flowering strips

Within an arable environment, non-crop habitats constitute one of the most important sources of biodiversity with field margins acting as the main source of beneficial species of pollinators and insect predators. This field-scale trial is looking to determine the impact of perennial flower strips, both around and within the field, on beneficial insect and pest populations.

Key results to-date:

  • All fields exhibited different species abundance of invertebrate pests and beneficials, and no field could be considered ‘average’
  • Management options need to be applied to fit each field where possible, accounting for surrounding habitats, underlying conditions and existing management practices
  • There was no clear evidence in this study so far, of an impact of distance into the crop on pest or beneficial invertebrate abundance, though there is a lot of evidence from larger studies that the number of beneficials reduces further into the field

Find out more information:

Marginal land

The aim of this work is to conduct analysis of multiple farm datasets to classify areas of land on the Strategic Cereal Farm East that provide agricultural value, and to identify those areas of land that have little agriculture value and potential for profit from an arable rotation and could be used in the future as an opportunity for implementing environmental schemes. The data sets will include: farm rotation, yield, soil and satellite imagery maps, farm costings, drainage maps and many more.

Read more about calculating the cost of marginal land

Previous on-farm trials 

Very low inputs

This demonstration was carried out in harvest 2020, to determine the effect of reduced pesticide input applications on pests, weeds and disease in one field – how low can you go?

Results suggest in a low disease pressure season there is little benefit in increasing fungicide spend to improve gross margins

Full details are in the report (p.56-58) and summer video with Brian Barker.

Early crop biomass

It has been shown that a crop with high biomass has more of a potential to achieve higher yield, can reduce nutrient losses over winter and may help with the agronomic challenge of drilling later for black-grass and BYDV. This demonstration looks to better understand how starter fertilisers can contribute to boosting biomass in the autumn and winter for winter wheat. Three products (Polysulphate, TSP and Kieserite) have been tested both via broadcast and placed application techniques.

Key messages:

  • Consider the use of starter fertiliser in late-sown crops or in conditions where slug presence is common e.g. high trash levels or cloddy seedbeds, to improve initial crop establishment.
  • If possible, starter fertiliser should be placed alongside the seed to give best results. If broadcasting, then product choice is extremely important and mobility is a very important property to be considered.  Harvest 2020 results showed that there may be yield benefits from broadcasting kieserite and possibly TSP at planting where soil nutrient indices are low.
  • On Wyverstone Road in harvest 2020, broadcast kieserite and TSP appeared to increase yield by up to 0.4t\ha, whilst polysulphate showed no yield benefit compared to standard farm practice

Full details in the harvest 2020 report (p.18-21), the summer video with Brian Barker (host) and Damian Hatley (ADAS) and harvest 2019 report (p.15-20).

Repeat baselining

In the first year of the Strategic Cereal Farm, a range of assessments were carried out, in order to create a baseline for the farm. These assessments included: soil analysis, earthworm assessments, drain water quality assessments, electrical conductivity scanning, crop assessments and a weather station was installed. This has been repeated in the third year of the farm.

Find out more about the baselining assessments.

First year baselining results.

Reports, events and further details

Strategic Farm Week - Winter 2020

This week, during November 2020, brought together the results from the Strategic Farm East trials and demonstrations from harvest 2020, along with wider discussions around the key themes of managed lower inputs and building diversity above and below ground.

Strategic Farm Week - Summer 2020

A week dedicated to the latest results and information from AHDB's Strategic Cereal Farms.

For more information, please visit the Strategic Farm Week - Summer 2020 webpage.

Earlier meetings and results

Strategic Cereal Farm East in the press

Why yield mapping is first step in bridging BPS income gap (Farmers Weekly, February 2021)

How trials are helping two farmers maximise crop margins (Farmers Weekly, January 2020)

How two farmers hope to make better use of crop inputs (Farmers Weekly, August 2019)

Crop trials in practice (Farmers Guardian, June 2019)

Can farmers be less reliant on fungicides? (Farmers Weekly, April 2019)

Decision-making in farming is as complex as a game of chess (East Anglian Daily Times, August 2018)

Bridging the gap between research and reality (East Anglian Daily Times, November 2017)

Baselining - the start of the Strategic Farm East (blog, December 2017)

Visual soil assessments

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Upcoming Meetings

21 June 2022, 9:30 AM - 21 June 2022, 1:30 PM

Lodge Farm, Stowmarket, Suffolk, IP14 4SZ

You are invited to join us on a Strategic Cereal Farm East Open Day hosted by Brian Barker.

Farm Video

More videos