Kerchesters is part of the extensive Roxburghe estate, a 360 hectare mixed farm with beef and cereals run by father and son partnership James and Tommy Clark. Located just a couple of miles from the border between England and Scotland above the River Tweed, the predominantly north-facing land ranges in altitude from 150 to 500 feet above sea level with a mix of clay and sandy loams.
“The north-facing aspect does make a difference,” comments Tommy Clark. “We can look across the valley and see what our neighbours are up to and know that in several days we will have to be doing the same!”The Clarks are currently cultivating 400 acres of winter wheat, 150 acres each of oilseed rape and spring barley, and 50 acres of beans. Wheat yields an average of 9.5 tonnes per hectare, spring barley 6.5 tonnes, beans 5 tonnes and OSR 4.5 tonnes. The remaining 130 or so acres are made up of grass, mostly leys, some for silage or grazing by the beef herd that consists of 90 single suckler cows, mostly Aberdeen Angus cross.
The farm also has around 50 acres of permanent grass on difficult land. Cows are put to an Angus or Simental bull depending on blood line and conformation. Forty of the cows and progeny spend the summer on the Cheviot Hills, and for the last 50 years the farm has bought in 40 six-month-old stores from a single supplier in Argyll in the West of Scotland, although this may change in the future with more cows joining the herd permanently. All calves are finished or retained for breeding, while bulls are left entire and sent to the abattoir on a deadweight basis.
Silage is currently made in the clamp, which may need serious renovation, so baled silage an alternative. Currently the farm cuts the silage grass, while a contractor comes in with a forage harvester and trailers that are hauled by the farm’s tractors. The farm operates a McHale round baler for cereal straw for farm needs and for sale, so a move to baled silage would not be a great change.
Interestingly the farm operates a 195 kW Glenfarrow biomass boiler that supplies hot water for all the farm’s houses and the workshop.
“The telehandler is in daily use, so pushing a bale or two into the boiler is no real hardship. The boiler is also a good use for baled OSR straw,” adds Tommy Clark.
Before 2015 Kershesters had not run a Valtra tractor, but in that year the farm’s main tractor proved unreliable – a situation that could not be tolerated. James and Tommy Clark, together with driver Craig Robertson looked at several contenders before opting for a 230-horsepower Valtra T234 Versu. The new Valtra joins four other tractors on the fleet, two of which hardly leave the yard.
“We’ve a 22-year-old and a 40-year-old tractor that are mostly used for feeding and other work inside sheds with limited headroom. Modern field tractors are simply too tall for our older buildings. They also come with features we honestly don’t need. This all adds to the price in terms of both purchase and maintenance,” Tommy explains.
A glance into the machinery shed reveals that most field work is undertaken by Tommy and Craig with occasional help from the semi-retired James. Alongside the tractors and telehandler, the farm has its own combine and 24-meter self-propelled sprayer. The main implements include a five-furrow plough, a 4-metre cultivator and a 4-metre drill with an old power harrow drill for difficult conditions.
“Autumn-sown crops are usually planted using a minimum-till system while we tend to plough for spring-sown crops. Additionally we operate a fertiliser spreader and variable-chamber round baler,” Tommy tells us.
Such a comprehensive line up of equipment does not leave much for outside contractors, just the forage harvesting and some hedge trimming.
“This is one of the reasons we shortlisted Valtra. The tractor may have an excellent reputation for reliability, but in the event of a hiccup we know we can turn to the dealer, Kelso Harvesters. You can pretty much see their depot from our yard – they’re reliable and handy.”
Driver Craig enjoys operating the T234. He’s found that all the controls come easily to hand.
“Driving a demonstration machine is one thing, but sitting in the cab for long periods day in, day out is quite another matter – especially once you start to get tired. The cab is large, so there’s plenty of space. We also specified the tractor with AutoSteer readiness and installed our existing terminal; it makes long days less tiring,” Craig admits.
Precision farming is important at Kerchesters. Tommy Clark was an early convert to yield mapping.
“We sourced and retrofitted a second-hand yield monitor 15 years ago. The collected data is used to accurately place fertiliser and target where field drainage is required. This year we are experimenting with variable seed rates when planting, so we can put a bit more seed down in the heavy areas compared to areas where conditions are ideal,” Tommy says.
Once the crop has matured, the combine continually monitors yields with grain going over a continuous flow drier capable of 22 tonnes per hour before being held in the 2200-tonne storage facility. Feed grain is stored in a 180-tonne moist grain tower.
“We aim for a high-quality crop, with wheat for seed, distilling, or biscuit flour and the barley for malting. The beans are exported for human consumption and OSR for oil, while some of the rapeseed meal is bought back as cattle feed,” Tommy adds.