Black-grass experience inspires farmer to share his story

Friday, 12 June 2020

Rob Waterston's Newbury Monitor Farm joins AHDB's Farm Excellence programme in the South East.

A serious black-grass problem meant a big re-think for Berkshire farmer Rob Waterston.

Rob was forced to revise his entire farming system five years ago, when his black-grass issue became so bad it resulted in crop losses. Now he wants to share his story with fellow growers as he joins AHDB’s UK-wide network of farmers dedicated to improving business performance.

Rob explains, “In the past we were too reliant on chemistry and failed to spot the early warning signs, it came to the point where we couldn’t continue as we were and had to make changes.”

Those changes, while still very much a work in progress, comprise an integrated approach to farm management prioritising soil resilience. He has reduced his use of chemical inputs and machinery, while incorporating sustainable farming methods.

As a member of AHDB’s flagship Monitor Farm programme, Rob will host regular discussion groups for farmers in his area. Meetings will take place predominantly over the winter and spring for those interested in sharing knowledge and tackling regional local issues together.

Rob is farm manager at the Welford Estate near Newbury in Berkshire. The farmed area extends to 864 hectares straddling the M4. In the past crops included wheat, barley and oilseed rape but recent changes mean the crop rotation has been in flux. Previously Rob used a ‘block-cropping’ approach with variation kept to a minimum. Now every field has a different rotation.

The farm will serve as the focus point for Rob’s Monitor Farm meetings. Over the next three years, attendees will hear from agronomists, researchers, farmers and other experts on important agricultural issues.

The Monitor Farm programme also provides a platform for trialling new methods that sometimes require a leap into the unknown. No stranger to taking risks, Rob is already carrying out his own on-farm trials. In a bid to further reduce his use of chemical inputs he will omit fungicides altogether from a crop of wheat this year. The aim is to tailor nitrogen fertiliser applications and maximise the natural resistance of the crop variety to develop a more sustainable farming approach.

As the host of the Newbury Monitor Farm, Rob joins the Petworth Monitor Farm and the Canterbury Monitor Farm as the current hosts in the South East region of the UK. The regular meetings are free and open to anyone interested in attending.

Monitor Farms are part of AHDB’s Farm Excellence programme: a network of farmers dedicated to driving the industry forward by sharing best practice and trying new methods. Head over to the Farm Excellence page to find out more.