Farm Of The Week: Queuing up for expert in minding the peas

PEAS are the reason for meeting Mark Sampson.

Masham Micronized Feeds, part of I’Anson’s of Masham, has put out a press release alerting growers to unmet demand for ‘blue peas’.

So we are all on the same page, micronization means microwaving, to improve digestibility. And ‘blue peas’ are a group of green peas, suitable for harvesting with a combine – as opposed to the tidier ‘vining pea’, which gives you the sort Birds Eye freezes and people sometimes even still eat fresh.

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Vining peas are delicately harvested, at a critical point of ripeness, with a complicated machine which the average farmer can only afford a share in.

I’Anson’s wants to make the point there is still a huge market for the other kind, which make soups and chip-shop mushies – and a valuable ingredient for animal feeds.

Confusingly, there are white peas too, which are a touch easier to grow, but your average buyer of feed for dogs, rabbits and horses, likes to see green ones in the mix and I’Ansons, in the course of mixing hundreds of formulations for livestock and pets, needs 18,000 tonnes a year.

Trouble is, says their buyer, Howard Jackson, good prices for cereals and oilseed rape have meant many farmers reducing their rotations to nothing but. Also, he concedes, peas can be problematic. So why should the farmers bother? The question takes us to Mr Sampson, who does.

He lives at Acclom House, in Well, between Masham and Bedale, with wife Louise.

From there, with the help of three ‘invaluable’ regular hands, and Louise on the books, he runs 830 acres stretching over several miles and soil types, in the Vale of Mowbray – northern beginning of the Vale of York. Son Harry is in his final year of agriculture studies at Harper Adams. Daughter Cordelia is at Edinburgh, studying psychology.

At 58, Mr Sampson is used to the specialised fringes of the growing business. Wheat and barley are still staples but he grows them exclusively for seed, for Woodheads of Selby. It mainly means taking extra care to keep crops well-separated and clean, he says.

“Like all farming, it’s mainly a matter of organisation.”

One of his first forays off the beaten track was with naked oats for I’Anson’s – so-called because they shed their husks on harvesting. You can beat the husks off standard oats, as porridge makers do. But that is expensive. For young pigs and horses, naked oats are the right compromise, and they fit well into standard rotations.

He became I’Anson’s go-to guy for trials. At one point, he tried lupins, which have potential as a substitute for soya.

“They were not hard to grow,” he says. “But combining was a nightmare. Look at a lupin pod and it falls off. Even so, we got 20 tonnes of product out of 16 acres, which was respectable. If I grew them again, however, I would plant a bit more densely.

“They will not grow on alkaline soil and most of ours is. We had them in a field where we were still raising the Ph at the time. But if your soil is acidic, they are definitely worth considering.”

Another experiment was for another Yorkshire business which has quietly grown into a world leader – Kerfoot’s, suppliers of something like 400 vegetable oils to the world. Kerfoot’s started in Bedale and now has offices in Northallerton, a factory in Goole and a subsidiary in Moldova, next to Transylvania. The bright yellow of rape fields is the most obvious sign of the ever-expanding market for vegetable oils. Kerfoot’s demonstrates there is much more to it. If you can squeeze an oil out of it, somebody will swear by it.

Mr Sampson got chatting and ended up growing 25 acres of camelina, which produces a seed a bit like rapeseed but red-brown and much finer. The oil is used in face creams, lip balm and baby products. The Americans get aviation fuel out of it. Most of it comes from China but with the pressure on for local sourcing, and accountability right back to seed, Kerfoot’s was keen to find a Yorkshire supplier.

Mr Sampson got a good crop two years running, 2010 and 2011 – the first year paid by the acre, the second by weight. Both years, however, the plants reacted badly to standard weedkillers before recovering – “They were going whiter every day and so was I.”

After that, the trick was to find a way to separate out the seeds, using his “fairly standard” array of sieves, blowers and so on.

“It’s surprising what you can do if you slow everything right down and think,” he sums up.

“And there is nothing like growing something you know somebody wants, as opposed to casting your bread on the water and hoping for the best.”

After last year’s delivery, Kerfoot’s said they had enough for a while and this year he is growing 35 acres of golden flax (linseed) for them instead. They came back too late to ask him for some more camelina. They want seeds of strawberries and cucumbers and all sorts else which are beyond him for now, but it is a market to look at if you want a bit of added interest, he says.

Meanwhile, he still believes in peas or beans as a useful break crop.

His wisdom on peas is that yield matters less than stem strength.

“They look fantastic until you want to combine them and then they all fall flat,” he says, summing up a common experience.

He has learned to trust the Madras variety to stay standing. Daytona is also good, he says. Howard Jackson is recommending a variety called Zero4, from Limagrain, which has the added advantage, for some systems, of maturing 10 days earlier than most rivals.

Another regular crop for Mark Sampson is potatoes – about 70 acres a year, rotated so there is at least seven years between plantings. He still believes in starting the chitting by spreading the seed potatoes in wooden trays – laborious, but it gives them a two-week start. His collection of trays is testimony to the practice having almost faded out. They carry the names of a dozen farms and manufacture dates going back to 1960.

He sells to market stalls and end users, through Carrick’s of Snape and Haigh’s of Beckwithshaw. Estimas grown on his limier soils have a special flavour and customers look for the white L. Sampson & Son bags they are packed in, he says. You can get them through Fodder at Harrogate.

Finally, he takes about 50 Holsteins a year from a trusted neighbour to fatten, using his own grass, potatoes and grains left over from screening, and maybe a tonne of soya.

He is company secretary of the Yorkshire Farming & Wildlife Organisation, saved from the collapse of FWAG, and takes pleasure in the work he has done for wildlife. Over the past two years, he has disentangled 27,000 protective plastic spirals from hedge plantings and coppiced and laid the saplings. Without that effort, the hedge is not worth having, he says.

In less wildlife-friendly mode, he has put up 3,000 metres of rabbit-proof fence at around a fiver a metre and 30 tunnel traps costing £75 each.

Instead of burrowing under the fence, the rabbits use the tunnels – until a pin is removed from the swivel floor. The traps took about 500 rabbits last year and the crop savings paid for the fence, he reckons.

Contact Howard Jackson, to talk about peas, at 07711 897172 or [email protected]