Farm of the Week: Modern approach to arable farming pays off

Education about farming, food and rural life has been central to most agricultural summer shows for decades, but never has it been more pertinent than at present, with today's generation seen by many farmers as the first to be completely divorced from basic agricultural knowledge.

Tim Burdass is preparing for the Driffield Show and wants to ensure that the educational aspect remains prominent. Pic: James Hardisty.

Milk and cereals come from the local supermarket so far as many are concerned rather than being knowledgeable about their source, and the feeling is that it isn’t just young people who think that way.

Tim Burdass of Dotterill Park, just out of Kilham, farms in partnership with his uncle Mike and cousins Charles and Patrick. It’s formidable Wolds cereal crops growing country that also produces healthy roots crops from chalk and medium loam soil.

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Their owned farmland runs to around 1,250 acres with a further 50 acres of permanent pasture. Tim is also the recently instated chairman of Driffield Agricultural Society and his first Driffield Show as such is in just 18 days.

Tim is keen on ensuring the educational aspect of the society remains at its forefront.

“I’ve always attended the show from being very young. I started stewarding on the cattle lines in the early 90s. My father-in-law David Stubbings who farmed at Wold Newton and is sadly no longer with us subsequently asked if I’d like to join the general committee and it’s gone from there. I became vice chairman in 2013 and chairman in December last year. We’re most definitely an agriculturally-based show and we stick to it.

“As a society we are thoroughly committed to providing greater education about agriculture and food. We recently ran an Education Day for schools, which was very well received. The feedback from that day has shown there is also just as much as serious a job to be done with adults. The lack of knowledge about farming, food, livestock and crops is frightening.”

Understanding simple facts such as wheat being used for biscuits, bread and breakfast cereals and barley being used for animal feed and beer is a first base to get to in terms of education, but there is also a much wider issue. Farming families such as the Burdass’ have moved on in their business and there is an even greater need to explain why things happen in the countryside than just ‘here’s a pig, here’s a cow, here’s a tractor’.

The Burdass farming business, which at 1,250 acres of arable may seem large to the uninitiated now encompasses a further 1,800 acres of contract and share farming agreements within around five to 10 miles. They have also recently taken on a couple of ground mounted solar energy parks on their land.

“This year we’re growing 540 acres of winter wheat using the varieties Gallant, Trinity and Crusoe. It’s our first time with Trinity and it’s looking good. We get quite a bit away as milling wheat with the rest a mix of feed and biscuit wheat.

“Last harvest, much the same as everyone else, we had a record year on wheat yields.

“We’re also growing 150 acres of winter barley using the variety Venture. We grew the big heap feed variety Glacier last year and that did very well for us but Venture was what the market demanded this time and it will all go for malting. Our spring barley crop is 150 acres with two varieties Concerto and Chapeau and will hopefully all go for lager or malting.

“Oilseed rape acreage is now 200 acres. We’ve been coming down steadily on the amount we grow. Yields were very good last year but it is a very expensive crop. We’re a founding member and grower of peas with Swaythorpe Growers that now markets under the name Yorkshire Peas. We trade all of the crops ourselves and have a contract with Tesco. We grow 178 acres of them. We also let around 40-50 acres on contract to potato growers.

“We’re always looking to diversify and it is our agricultural contracting that we started in the early 90s that makes up the lion’s share of our business today. It helps us spread our machinery and labour costs over a far greater area.

“We’re also benefitting from precision farming with autosteer on our tractors and combines that includes two Claas Lexion harvesters; our main tracked 540hp Challenger 865 for prime cultivation work; a Case Magnum; and a fleet of four John Deeres.

“Autosteer has made us savings of anywhere between five and 10 per cent on fuel and chemical usage. We started with it in 2008 when we purchased the Challenger. We save on fuel overlap and complete jobs faster. It also helps with driver fatigue as the press of a button lines the machine up correctly on every run. We’re also using the Yara N Sensor on our sprayer which again saves on chemicals by applying the correct amount to each part of the field.”

Last year the Burdass’ moved into solar energy that now powers the farm at Dotterill. It’s another move that shows how farming businesses are adapting.

That’s why education about those who work the land no longer purely relates to cows, sheep, pigs, cereals and roots crops. The Burdass family are still at one with the countryside. They were Tye Trophy area finalists last year at the Great Yorkshire Show and have recently become part of the new mid-tier stewardship scheme.

Tim’s father John passed away four years ago. His mum Mary now lives in Kilham. John and Mike Burdass formed the family partnership J&M Burdass in 1957 and today’s family business continues under the same name.

The family farming operation includes farms in the nearby village of Thwing and another near Kilham.

Tim’s attention will be focussed on Driffield Show in the coming days.

“The show is constantly growing and the addition of our new events centre the Rix Pavilion has offered us another string to our bow. Let’s educate a few more folks at the same time.”