Measurement advice from Tom Sewell
14 Jun 2019
Tom Sewell, Sewell farms, Warnhams Farm, West Farleigh, Kent
Tom Sewell farms just over 400ha of arable and operates a contracting business from his base in in the Medway Valley near Maidstone, in partnership with his father, a first generation farmer.
He grows wheat, mainly Group 1s, oilseed rape, winter and spring beans, plus barley and oats as required.
For his Nuffield Scholarship in 2013, Tom investigated regenerative agriculture using no-till systems. This opened his eyes to the potential benefits of no-till, and he was the first UK farmer to buy a Cross-Slot drill.
Not surprisingly, no-till, in combination with cover crops, has been a key strategy for this forward-thinking farmer in his battle against black-grass.
“Seven to 10 years ago black-grass became more of a problem,” says Tom. “We’ve employed a range of strategies since then, some successful some not. When we think we’ve got on top of it we find we haven’t!
“However, we have used a combination of things – a range of chemistry, no-till, cover crops, delayed drilling, spring cropping and spraying off flushes in between crops. I firmly believe that using all these things together is the way forward.
“Each year is different, so the goalposts are constantly moving. That means not only using all the tools we can, but being flexible in how we use them.”
The potential loss of glyphosate has really focused minds at Warnhams Farm, heightening the sense of urgency in the battle against black-grass. “The key is never to think you’ve won,” says Tom.
“Never get complacent. Continue to manage black-grass effectively across the farm – miss a couple of plants and you are back at it again. Keep assessing how things are going. You have to walk crops all the time and be prepared to treat each field individually – that would be my advice.”
Tom describes black-grass as one of the biggest challenges he faces, along with the weather and commodity prices. “We can’t do anything about the first two, but we can do something about black-grass.
“I do sometimes have headaches about it, particularly if I see a good field of wheat with blackgrass heads poking above it. But I do believe we have enough tools in the box if we manage them carefully.”