From the Stamford Mercury 1958

I.C.I show off Mr. Conant's techniques


Can the intensive management of grassland on a farm not equipped for dairying bring increased profit? Most farmers accustomed to traditional techniques would say No, but those who toured Mr. John Conant's Old Hall Farm, Nether Hambleton, on Wednesday, must have come away convinced that the new techniques which he has introduced on a farm where corn is regarded as a major source of profit, are well worth while.

About 100 farmers and agricultural experts attended the demonstration arranged by Imperial Chemical Industries, who for the past two years have been fully costing the farm under their Grassland Management Investigation Scheme.

Records show a tremendous increase in the productivity of this farm in recent years, and it is largely attributed to the new techniques in the management of the grass land.

For Instance, the gross output per acre 1952-53 was given as £24, whereas in 1956-57 it was. £72. Livestock units had increased from 93 to 194 but labour costs per acre had only gone up from £4 5s, per acre to £6 6s.

Corn and grass

Mr Conant farms 200 acres of strongish land at Old Hall Farm and a further 100 acres of lighter land at Lyndon. It is essentially a corn and grass farm and the policy has been to manage the, grassland intensively in order to raise sheep and beef.

Until a few years ago, most of the grass was of the permanent classification, but now the grass fields are nearly all leys of various ages up to four years. This change has been accompanied by an intensification of corn growing; increasing the acreage of wheat, using modern stiff-strawed varieties that make good use of fertilizer and fertilizing them well; so that yields have substantially increased.

The effect of this policy is reflected in the fact that the average wheat yield in 1956-57 was 31.9 cwts, per acre as against 25.7 cwts, In 1952-53.Barley increased from 25 cwts. per acre to 37.4 cwts. per acre.

The profitability of the grassland is more problematical than that of corn. In former years it was managed extensively at low stocking rates and was not expected to make much contribution to the farm profit.

More grass

The present policy aims at higher output per acre of grass by fertilizer treatment; extending the effective grazing season for sheep and cattle, partly by the use of special leys and partly by the timing of nitrogenous fertilizer application; conservation of larger quantities of grass for silage for cheaper winter keep; increase in stock numbers to make greater use of the bigger output of grass.

The management is designed to exploit the fact that grass, whether grazed or conserved. is the cheapest food for ruminant stock, and the net result of it is to make each acre of grass produce more saleable livestock without proportionate increase in the amount of bought feed used.

The density of grass-eating stock on the farm has been more than doubled in the last five years, but the increase has been in sheep rather than in cattle.

This is because the profitability of sheep for fat lamb production is easier to achieve than that of cattle and the capital involved is turned over more quickly. The capital tied up in the beef enterprise is considerable and its increase is not regarded as justified until further study indicates a profitable road to expansion with greater certainty than is at present the case.

Costings revealed that, so far, the beef enterprise had not been profitable but last year's figures showed that although the position improved beef was only just about breaking even.


An Important aspect of the grassland management is the production of enough silage to provide all the beasts with a full winter ration. It had been found that the. beasts thrived much more on silage than other food, and it was the cheapest food that could be obtained.

Mr. Conant was one of the first farmers in Rutland to take advantage of the Government grant for the erection of silos. In fact his was the No.1 application for the grant in the county.

The silo is erected on a concrete floor and is designed to enable self feeding by the stock controlled by electric fence to ensure an even consumption. In other words, the animals will not be able to eat their way into the middle thus causing waste.

Pigs and poultry

Besides the corn growing and the sheep and beef enterprises, there are important pig and poultry projects on the farm.

Last year 292 bacon pigs were sold - the production of 15 sows on the early weaning system - and contributed 24 per cent. of the farm income.

The I.C.I. Work Study team have recently carried out an investigation on the farm and their recommendations with regard to pigs should ultimately lead to the output being increased by at least 80 per cent, with the minimum of capital expenditure in building reconstruction and no increase in the labour required to feed and manage the 25 sows and their progeny finished to bacon weight.

6,800 broilers

As regards poultry, there are three main enterprises; and in 1956 they provided 31 per cent. of the farm income. They are: a breeding flock producing hatching eggs; broiler production, which last year resulted in 6.800 broilers being sold; and turkey rearing.

There are at present 385 Beltsville White turkeys and they are housed in a building adjoining the silo. It is part of the farm management policy to make the fullest use of every building and when the turkeys are killed -which will be very shortly - their accommodation will be available for the cattle.

Investigation by the I.C.I. Work Study team has led to recommendations which should ultimately mean an increase in the broiler output to over 12,000 a :year with no increase in labour requirements.

The regular labour force on the farm is three men, although at the moment there are four fully employed.

Feeding stuffs

Another feature of the farm policy is the milling and mixing of all supplementary feeding stuffs.

Harvested cereals are put through a pre-cleaner and stored and dried in ventilated bins, a total capacity of about 150 tons.

After the visitors had completed their tour of the farm they listened to a talk by Dr. G. W Cooke, head of the chemistry department of Rothamsted Experimental Station. He was introduced by Mr D. G. Whitelaw. area sales manager of I.C.I.'s Agricultural Division, and his subject was "Profitable Arable Crops".

Wasted fertilizer

Dr. Cooke dealt mainly with the subject of manuring arable crops, . and he emphasised at the outset that one of the objectives of manuring was to get the fullest possible crop for the lowest possible cost per ton or per hundred weight. He pointed out that lime was a very necessary thing for some classes of land if they were to get the most out of the money spent on fertilizers. If the land was sour, fertilizers could give little or no benefit.

The fertilizing business was in itself very simple. There were only three things to do and they were the right things. Firstly, they must have the right kind of fertilizer; secondly, they must have the right amount, and thirdly, they must ensure the right. timing and placing of the dressings.

The only way they could find out now much fertilizer they required was by field experimentation and using the results of field tests over a number of years.

To emphasise his point that for the maximum return in relation to the cost of fertilizer only the right amount should be used, Dr. Cooke quoted figures to show how increased fertilizer dressings did not increase the crop yield anything like the same .proportions.

He also gave comparative figures to show how modern types of cereals had a greater potentiality for responding to fertilizers than the older . varieties. He also dealt with the relative values of nitrogen, phosphate and potash, and the proportions in which they might be applied for the best results.

Balanced soils

Opening a discussion on Dr. Cooke's talk Mr. J. D. Laurance, Rutland County Agricultural Officer, said it was extremely easy to overdo this matter of fertilizing. particularly in these days of compounds.

He felt there was rather a danger in some quarters of putting a balanced fertilizer on unbalanced soil.

Referring to statistics concerning the average fertilizer consumption in lbs. per acre in various European countries. he said the figures for the United Kingdom were given as: Nitrogen 15 ½, phosphate 30, potash 16. In Rutland the figures were 17, 19 and 19. and in Leicestershire he believed they were much lower.

County average

The figures for Mr. Conant's farm for both grass and arable crops were 68. 47 and 23, and for the arable land alone. they were 57, 32 and 54. "This particular farm has helped to bring Rutland's average up. For the rest of the county it must be considerably lower,". he commented.

Mr. Laurance pointed out, however, that if they were going to manure for high yields, all other aspects of the farm management must be at .the same high levels.

Sensible investment

Summing up, Mr. Stuart Senior, of the Economics Department of the School of Agriculture, Nottingham University, said he thought the capital investment on Mr. Conant's farm had been undertaken very sensibly. He had resisted the temptation to invest in what might be regarded as luxury machinery and had invested in profitable livestock and improving his land.

Mr. Senior attached considerable importance to the keeping of records because they helped the farmer to make wise decisions.

Walk round commentary

During the I.C.I. tour of Mr. Conant's Old Hall Farm at Nether Hambleton, a commentary was given by Mr. A. V. Collins, I.C.I: agricultural representative for Leicester and Rutland who was also mainly responsible for organising the demonstration.

Text under the picture

Mr. J. E. M. Conant, whose successful farming methods at Old Hall Farm, Nether Hambleton, were demonstrated on Wednesday, is seen (right) with Mr. J. D. Laurance, Rutland Agricultural Officer, and Mr. G. W. Cooke (centre) head of the. Rothamsted Experimental Station chemistry department.