Bowsden farmer inspired by trip to New Zealand

A Bowsden farmer has travelled to the other side of the world to look at New Zealand farming innovations and efficiencies.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 29 March, 2019, 11:07
Berwick farmer Richard Cookcroft in New Zealand.

Richard Cockcroft, who farms with his brother, is working with BASF to develop crop trials after seeing how New Zealand farmers are pushing their yields.

He was among a 15-strong group of farmers from the UK who spent two weeks touring top agricultural and exporting businesses, including the former and current world record holders for wheat yields.

The farmers won the trip after scanning cans, last spring, of BASF’s cereal fungicides, Adexar and Librax, used to control Septoria and other foliar diseases on wheat.

Richard farms 810 hectares of land, on which the young farming brothers produce arable crops, beef from a pedigree herd of Shorthorn cattle and lamb from a flock of New Zealand Romney and Highlander sheep

He said: “All the farmers we met are making the most of the markets near them, especially China, Japan and Indonesia.

“We could definitely learn from them on working together, particularly for investments. Near Canterbury, on the South Island, we saw a NZ$130m irrigation scheme that a large group of farmers had all pitched money into, and another project – a vegetable pack house – which growers had invested in together.

“They are also maximising their gross margins, are open about financials and seem to have lower fixed costs for their machinery than we do here, because they run them for longer.”

New Zealand crop yields are higher than the UK due to their wetter and warmer climate and their volcanic soils.

Despite the differences, though, he felt there is definite potential for UK growers to increase cereal yields.

He said: “There are some scenarios where we could push our crops more – maybe with more nitrogen and fungicide, and lower seed rates.”

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He noted that many of the issues there are the same as here.

“They also face similar labour problems to the UK - we rely on Eastern Europeans and they rely on workers from the South Pacific islands. However, unlike us, New Zealand farmers will pay for flight tickets for workers, provide accommodation, vehicles to drive and even cook for them.” flock of New Zealand Romney and Highlander sheep.

On the trip the farmers were given sight of a new cereal fungicide that BASF hopes to launch later this year in both the UK and New Zealand.

Richard said: “It looked very impressive, particularly on Ramularia in barley and Septoria in wheat, which was very evident in a high disease pressure season after a very wet Spring in NZ. We’ll be looking to use it when it is licensed in the UK.”

“We met some really good farmers out there,” said Robin Rose, BASF Agronomy Manager.

“But in places they’ve got six metres of top soil, their grain filling period is double that of the UK resulting in bushel weights in the 90s, rather than the 70s.

“The engagement we got from the farmers we took was incredible - many of them have come back reinvigorated and said they want to do trials and push yields on their own farms.

“So we are setting up meetings with many of them and their agronomists to look at how we can work together. For us, it’s fantastic - like this we can get closer to farmers and find out what their day-to-day challenges are, and what their own specific limitations on yield are.”

BASF currently has 50 growers taking part in their Real Results Circle, testing products and sharing findings. The company also has five Real Results Farms, which are regional demonstration sites conducting trials and holding open days.