BROTHERS Peter and Phil White (J. P. White and Partners) farm 1,000 acres at Court Barton, Lanreath, near Looe in South East Cornwall where their main enterprise is their 400-cow dairy herd.

With their father, John, at the helm, this family team runs quite successfully with Peter taking on the responsibility of the herd and Phil the responsibility for all the farm cropping.

The herd has averaged 9,000 litres for some time now and the family are continually striving toward producing as much milk from home-grown forage as possible and whilst the herd size has remained static since 2004, their fodder beet acreage has doubled from 15 to 31 acres with their maize acreage increasing by 25 per cent from 80 to 100 acres this year - the remainder of the farm being 170 acres of winter cereals, all of which is fed to the cows, 30 acres of wholecrop wheat and 669 acres of grassland.

As with all west country farms, grass is the key crop at Court Barton, with all other crops playing a complementary role. All the grassland is cut at least once during the season with the main cutting block providing a further two cuts. Three bags per acre of 12.15.20 are applied to the main cutting block in early February, followed by a top dressing of 65 units of straight nitrogen in March, thus permitting a first cut to be taken at the beginning of May when quality is at its most optimum.

An "After-Cut" type fertiliser is applied for both second and third cuts at a rate depending on the PK status of the soil. With the main grazing block having a fairly high proportion of clover, the first dressing of nitrogen is only necessary after the first grazing when two bags per acre of 25.5.5 are applied - usually followed by a further two applications during the season making 150 units of "N" in total.

Being so close to the coast, grass tends to grow all year round and in order to prevent any disease build up within the sward, sheep from neighbouring farms are grazed throughout the winter period.

Peter, like virtually all fodder beet growers, has always maintained that once fodder beet has been introduced into the diet, appetites are stimulated resulting in a significant increase in dry matter intakes and is currently feeding 11 kgs of fresh weight which is approximately 1.8 kgs of DM per day.

The overall UK acreage of fodder beet has dropped away somewhat over the past few years - largely due to the introduction of very early, high starch maize varieties and also the perception that fodder beet is a high maintenance crop and although the White's accept these arguments, they fully believe that the crop proves itself year on year and that their perseverance has really reaped dividends.

Choice of site, soil type and attention to detail are absolutely vital for fodder beet to be successfully grown and with fresh weight yields approaching 35-40 tonnes per acre, the incentives are clearly there. Following ploughing this year, lime was applied at 1.5 tonnes per acre in order to raise the pH of the soil from 6.3 to 6.9 and before being drilled on April 19, muriate of potash was broadcast over the seedbed at 208 units per acre, with the crop being top dressed with 130 units per acre of urea on May 22.

With soil index 3 on phosphate, the crop did not warrant anything further in the seedbed.

Weed control is also quite critical on fodder beet with the farm's agronomist Andrew Bolton of Cornwall Farmers agreeing that not only was attention to detail essential, but it was the actual timing of the herbicide that was all important, with this year's programme being (1) pre-emergence spray, followed by (2) post emergence in June - the final one containing the trace element boron.

The farm undertook a fodder beet trial in 2003 where they not only looked at yields, but also the cleanliness of the beet when lifted, believing that if yields were acceptable, a variety that was clean when lifted and would not warrant washing should really be a candidate for long-term use and, as such, they have been successfully growing the variety Blaze ever since.

The farm invested in their own top lifting harvester a few years ago - a secondhand, single row Armer Salmon - enabling them to harvest at their convenience which this year started during the first week of October and finished on November 8 - well in time to permit a following crop of winter wheat.

With yields averaging between 30 and 35 tonnes per acre, Phil White said that despite the poor weather conditions throughout the summer, this was the best year ever for fodder beet and has certainly justified their decision into doubling the acreage.

April proved to be perfect conditions for drilling, the weed control programme was spot on, yields, although below average, were good, beet was clean and did not require washing and we were able to get winter wheat in behind it. "A good result in a very difficult year - that can't be bad!'' he said.

Maize has been grown on this farm for a number of years now and as a direct result of the introduction of very early, high starch varieties, the acreage has grown to 100 acres this year and at the expense of wholecrop, will probably continue to increase for a few more years to come.

Fresh weight yields have usually averaged out at 17 tonnes per acre with dry matters of 30 per cent to 33 per cent and starch levels of similar proportions. The farm was consistently recording yields of virtually 5.5 tonnes of DM per acre with high starch yields to boot - with the resultant earlier harvesting easily permitting a following crop of winter wheat - results this year, however, being somewhat disappointing through eyespot infection and poor overall conditions throughout, but still managed to analyse out at a respectable 28 per cent DM and 27 per cent starch - figures that their feed suppliers said were still at the top end of this year's results!

In addition to the fodder beet trial in 2003, Phil also kindly agreed to a maize trial where up to 12 varieties from four different plant breeders were grown side by side, in order to establish which material recorded the best DM and starch yields in an area which really is quite marginal for maize growers. Even though it was four years ago, Phil still remembers the outstanding starch yield from Sapphire and, as a result, has grown it ever since - "I thought Crescendo was good,'' said Phil "But Sapphire is the best by far for this farm."

This is a big farm by anyone's standards, somewhat under stocked at the moment, but nonetheless, very well run by a successful family team - but, this success is not rocket science. It's down to hard work, a real "team" ethic and attention to detail, the latter being something maybe that we could all improve upon!