Strategic Cereal Farm East

Brian Barker
Stowmarket, Suffolk
Farm sectors:
Cereals & Oilseeds

About Strategic Cereal Farm East

  • E.J. Barker & Sons has hosted 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.

Looking to join us for our Strategic Farm Week – Winter 2020, 16-20 November? Head to for all the details.

To read about the results from the harvest 2020 trials visit: (link will become live at 8am, Monday 16 November)

Find the details of each of the trials and demonstrations, including the background, layout, assessments, analysis, costings and key messages are contained in the harvest report.

Follow the Strategic Cereal Farm East, with Brian Barker, if you are interested in:

  • Ways to manage reducing inputs on-farm, whilst maintaining productivity and enhancing the environment
  • Harnessing the potential of varieties to alter fungicide strategies
  • Using cover crops to improve soil health and water quality
  • Boosting early crop biomass to improve yield
  • Using flowering strips to encourage beneficials and predators

Please press the “+ See more” button below to see the details of the Strategic Cereal Farm East demonstrations, baselining and previous event resources.

You can also follow the conversation on by searching for #StrategicFarm or following The Barker boys on Twitter (see above for handle).

Mission and vision

An independent, open and honest platform for UK farmers to see and learn from the integration of research into practice on a commercial farm.

The vision of the Strategic Cereal Farm East is to understand the farmed environment; develop a long-term strategy to increase productivity and produce a high quality end-product without having a negative effect on the farmed environment. The project will bridge the gap between research and practical farming and provide a programme of demonstrations, subject to full net-margin cost benefit analysis, which are relevant to the current situation facing UK farming. The project will allow farmers to make informed decisions and increase farmer to farmer engagement.

The core values of the Strategic Farm East are: independent, honest, practical, productive, cost effective and relevant.

Strategic Farm East Demonstrations

For full details, results and costings for all of these demonstrations, please refer to the handouts listed in the ‘Previous Meeting’ section below, grouped by their topics and themes.

Managed lower inputs

Key messages:

  • Newer, more resistant varieties demand new thinking.
  • Based on the results from harvest 2019, growing more resistant varieties with low fungicide inputs gave the best net margin. However, this was a single year with moderate disease pressure. Varieties that are more resistant do nevertheless reduce risk to the business, as even in a high disease pressure year they will suffer less of a yield loss.
  • Can varieties be used as insurance against difficult weather conditions at spraying or the opportunity taken to reduce inputs and save cost? The approach to fungicide programmes across the industry is changing – this demonstration is looking to show the output of working with your agronomist to adapt your inputs to the season and variety through the year.

This demonstration has looked to determine the effect of reduced fungicide applications and cost of production on five different varieties with different resistance ratings for disease control under high, medium and low fungicide strategies. In harvest 2020, this has been taken forward to large plots of a single variety of winter wheat, which will be tested under high and low input agronomy strategies, compared with untreated plots. Seven timing treatments will be used to determine the effect of fungicide application timings on disease control, yield response and cost of production.

Early crop biomass

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.

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.

VIDEO: watch a video update on the biomass demonstration from Brian Barker, host farmer, and the early harvest 2020 research results from Damian Hatley, ADAS lead researcher.

Cover crops

Key messages:

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. 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

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 demonstration 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 demonstration will then assess the cover crop’s effect on subsequent crops in the rotation, including assessments of nitrogen uptake and losses, changes to soil health and crop yields.

VIDEO: Watch a video update on the cover crop demonstration from Brian Barker, host farmer, and the early harvest 2020 research results from Kate Smith, ADAS lead researcher.

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 demonstration is looking to determine the impact of perennial flower strips, both around and within the field, on beneficial insect and pest populations.

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.

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?

VIDEO: watch a video update on the very low inputs demonstration from Brian Barker, host farmer, please click here.

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

For full details, results and costings for all of these demonstrations, please refer to the handouts listed in the ‘Previous Meeting’ section below.


We are grateful to Brian Barker and all the team at EJ Barker & Sons for carrying out the operations, assessments and analysis; our lead trials contractors that we have worked with through the Strategic Cereal Farm East to carry out the assessments and analysis, including NIAB, ADAS and Envirofield; and to Essex & Suffolk Water for their kind contribution towards the analysis of the drain water samples from the cover crop demonstration and baselining work.

Previous Meetings

Strategic Farm Week 2020

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

This year, we brought together the research taking place on our Strategic Farms with our hosts, researchers and key experts from across the industry for a week of practical discussions, technical information and resources.

Results Day: 26 November 2019

The results day on 26 November 2019 provided information from the second year of trials and demonstrations at Strategic Cereal Farm East.

Earlier meetings

Contact us

If you would like more information about the Strategic Cereal Farm East, please get in touch.

For information on the research, trials, demonstrations and findings: 

  • Brian Barker, Strategic Cereal Farm Host - @The_Barker Boys 
  • Emily Pope, AHDB Knowledge Transfer Manager–; @emilypope_KT 

For information on events, resources or visiting the Strategic Farm:

To find out more about our network, please click on the links below:

Strategic Cereal Farm East in the press

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

+ See more

Farm Video

More videos