Case Study: The Binnie family’s Tillmouth Farm near Coldstream, Berwickshire
Agronomy+ enables top quality combination of certified and farm-saved seed use
Having moved away from farm-saving to top quality certified seed 30 years or so ago, the Binnie family are taking advantage of the latest mobile seed processing technologies alongside Master Seeds to get the best of both seed supply worlds.
At Tillmouth Farm in the Tweed valley near Coldstream, father and son team, Cameron and Michael currently grow around 350 ha of winter cereals in rotation with winter OSR, winter oats, micronised peas and salad potatoes on their 520 arable hectare holding.
Good biscuit and hard feed wheats averaging almost exactly10t/ha over the past three years are the cornerstone of their business, alongside winter malting barley grown as a third cereal averaging 9t/ha and 4.5t/ha-plus winter OSR as the primary break.
Starting Right with Master Seeds
Working with Agrii agronomist and farm-saved seed specialist, Gavin Fleming, they have been carefully integrating their Master Seeds supplies with home seed growing over the past five years for the greatest flexibility as well as economy.
They typically grow around 40ha of two Master Seeds wheats for seed each year – currently KWS Barrel and Zulu – after oilseed rape or peas, choosing good Recommended List varieties that have performed particularly well in Agrii national testing and local iFarm trials. At the same time they’re growing SY Venture malting barley for seed and have over-wintered enough home-grown Anastasia for their 2017 winter rape plantings.
“Top quality seed has always been vital for us,” explained Cameron. “We have to live with the decisions we make at planting for the whole season, and for two or three years if we’re farm saving. So it’s important we don’t compromise here.
“In the past we moved from farm saving to Master Seeds for consistent quality and timeliness. But with Gavin’s guidance we’ve found the technology and service available through Agrii’s state-of-the-art mobile seed plants us both the quality and timeliness we need with valuable extra flexibility. It also means we save around £20/ha on our wheat seed bill and improve our cash flow at no extra risk.
Ensuring All-Round Quality
“We can only do this, though, by investing the right care and attention to detail in our seed production,” he stressed. “The last thing we want is sacrifice future yields and margins for short term savings. So we have to be prepared to put more time and effort into the job.”
Past commercial seed growing experience and their insistence on never scrimping on inputs leaves the Binnies well-placed here. As does working with Gavin Fleming to identify the best varieties to grow, use the best quality seed in the first place and organise quality mobile processing for the best seed samples ahead of what can be very tight drilling deadlines.
“Master Seeds variety ratings from national and regional Agrii trials and local iFarms are our main selection tools,” said Gavin. “They give us far better information on the qualities we’re looking for in our varieties than RL trials alone.
“Much higher Master Seeds impurity, ergot contamination and germination standards than ordinary C2 seed and specialist vigour testing gives us a valuable edge in carrying these and other key elements of quality through to the farm-saved crop.
“The highest on-farm processing quality and flexibility is every bit as essential. Cameron and Michael like to get their winter cereals in as early in September as they can to be sure of the best establishment and development ahead of winter. Harvesting delays meant the seed crops had to be turned round in less than a week a couple of years back. This was only possible with the capacity and reliability we have in our mobile fleet and the professionalism of our operators.”
Across-the-board attention to detail in agronomy at Tillmouth means that seed crops are grown with very much the same level of inputs as the farm’s commercial crops. The first cereal slot is almost always used, though, for the greatest cleanliness as well as productivity. Drill hygiene is stepped-up. And extra care is invariably taken in ear disease control at T3, in particular.
Prioritising Combing & Drying Care
However, it’s from harvest onwards that the family really pull out the seed growing stops, with a meticulous regime of combining and drying.
“We grow a bigger area of each seed crop than we need,” pointed out Michael. “This means we can take our seed from the best parts of the crop. The first thing we do in combining a seed field is a cleaning run. This goes into our commercial heap. That way we know we only have grain of the same variety in the combine when we crank-up the settings to start in on the seed harvesting.
“We also leave the tramlines and come back at the end to put them in the commercial heap too. It’s a big hassle, I can tell you. But it gives us the best possible sample for processing, avoiding the greens inevitable where we can’t use pre-harvest glyphosate.
“Then we dry all our seed in a small batch drier rather than putting it through our main continuous flow plant. This means we can use a lower heat and leave it to cool longer for the best germination and seed vigour. Again we’re happy to sacrifice time for the quality that is always obvious when our Agrii test results come back ahead of processing.”
Appreciating the Mobile Processing Edge
“The mobile equipment and service we have these days is a world away from what we were used to in the ‘Seventies,” concluded Cameron. “Everything is well-planned ahead of time, the unit is always here before we need to sow – even when the deadlines are really tight. And, knowing us as well as their machines personally, the Agrii boys give us just the quality we want in a very efficient operation.
“Because they carry the full range of fungicide, nutrient and root stimulating seed dressings with them, we also have complete flexibility to make any last minute changes to our treatments as well as cleaning and sample specifications. It’s like have our own seed plant.
“Combining Master Seeds quality with the state-of-the-art mobile processing means we get the best of all possible worlds in our seed. We also get 1000 seed weights at the point of processing so we can drill by seed number rather than weight.”