Father and son team Royce and Graham Askew (G & R Askew) of Grange Farm, Merton in West Devon had built up a really successful dairy herd over the years and, quite understandably, were quietly proud of the herds achievements.

The cows were managed well and they reciprocated by yielding well – the two go together. Unfortunately for both the Askews and many other stock farmers throughout the UK, a bombshell awaited and in 2001, the dreaded foot and mouth struck and consequently, through no fault of their own, their herd of 180 cows, plus beef and sheep were wiped out – their livelihood, their future, their children’s future – gone.

Financial compensation is all very well, but money can never heal the mental wounds that had been inflicted on so many people – the only antidotes being community spirit and time, and because the Askews had plenty of time, they also had plenty of time to think and after much soul searching, a change of policy was agreed and now, some eleven years later, this family team, which also includes Graham’s wife Barbara as farm secretary and latterly their 12 year old daughter Lauren whose responsibilities would include looking after all the tame lambs, are well on the way toward developing a really successful arable, beef and sheep operation.

The farm totals 600 acres and with over 350 acres being devoted to cereals and other crops, it is easy to appreciate why the farm is deemed as being predominantly arable. There are 200 acres of winter wheat, 55 acres of oilseed rape, 55 acres of winter barley, 6 acres of winter oats, 20 acres of spring beans and 21 acres of forage maize, with all the wheat and rape being sold through the trade for animal feed, plus half of the barley and a small proportion of beans – the remaining barley, beans, oats and forage maize being used alongside grass silage for beef and sheep fattening.

With beans being a leguminous crop and requiring no bagged nitrogen at all, it is seen as an extremely valuable break crop – especially when followed by winter wheat and although the yields are not particularly high, the lower return is more than offset by it being an extremely cheap crop to grow. Average yields for spring beans would tend to be around 1.5 tonnes per acre with winter beans yielding up to 500 kgs more.

Oilseed rape yields would also average out at 1.5 tonnes per acre but for some reason, 2011 proved to be quite an exceptional year and recorded the best ever yields at 1.9 tonnes per acre.

100 acres of standing straw are auctioned off each year to local farmers.

The remaining 250 acres are all grassland with 200 acres being permanent pasture and 50 acres temporary leys – all of which being within the crop rotation policy.

The beef programme would see 200 animals finished each year at around 24 months of age – all of which are then sold to Southern Counties with replacement stores being bought in at anything up to 18 – 21 months old – a high proportion being Limousin/Belgian Blue crosses and bought at Brecon market in S Wales.

The farm also carries a flock of 250 breeding ewes which lamb down from mid January through to the end of February – the lambs all being fattened and finished and then sold to Randall Parker.

A further 200 store lambs are bought in the autumn and finished on a unique blend of stubble turnips and forage rape – the mixture being sown immediately after winter barley.

Grassland tends to lie on the somewhat wetter and later part of the farm and, as such, turnout will not be until April/early May with 50 units of nitrogen being applied in early March by way of a 27.6.6 + 5 Sulphur with a further 50 units of straight nitrogen being applied as a top up for first cut silage – all of which is ensiled in big bales.

The farm does not have a strict re-seeding policy but all new leys are sown with ACT’s No. 57 – a mainly cutting mixture made up of late heading perennial ryegrass plus clover. With tetraploids making up 72% of the formula and cutting dates being very close, this mixture has the potential to produce very high quality silage – and lots of it.

The farm started to grow maize in 2004 and since its introduction into the diet, there is no doubt that intakes have increased and a proportionate increase in LWT gains have been recorded with Graham Askew commenting that although growing only 21 acres, maize has become a vital component of the finishing diet. He also concurs with the general thinking that maize is an expensive crop to grow but and most importantly, he believes that if the crop is managed to its full potential, the yields will be more than worthwhile. This year Graham will be growing the new Limagrain ‘’LGAN’’ variety Ambition and because the farm is on the marginal side for growing maize, his sowing rate will be 42,500 seeds per acre. Following an appropriate amount of FYM which is always immediately incorporated into the soil, MAP or DAP – depending on availability will be applied ‘’down the spout’’ and when harvested, an additive is always used – his preferred one being Silo Action Maize.

The beef herd is TMR fed using a Keenan Feeder Wagon with a typical ration of 10 kgs big bale grass silage @ 36% DM, 12 kgs maize @ 29% DM & 31% starch, 2 kgs rolled barley and 1.5 kgs beans. The herd is weighed on a regular monthly basis with the average LWT gain being 1.25 kgs per day.

With grazed grass and grass silage supporting a wide range of arable and forage crops, the Askews can realize their ambition of keeping bought in feeds to an absolute minimum – the only exception being a limited amount of sheep cobs during winter. Graham Askew does acknowledge that in accepting that the arable side of the business is in fact their main enterprise – and is therefore managed accordingly – grassland can, and maybe does on occasions, suffer a wee bit through being slightly ‘’under managed’’ and that perhaps if their margins can be improved even further, an improvement in grass yields and grass quality could indeed be the answer with Graham complementing the advice that is always on tap from one of his main suppliers ACT saying ‘’since I first started to work with Neil Hayne – ACT’s local Area Manager, my grassland has improved quite significantly and consequently, I have full and total trust in his recommendations for cutting and grazing dates and his obvious knowledge in what is right for this farm regarding the composition of new grass mixtures is extremely important’’.

The only negative regarding Neil, said Graham, was that he costs me an absolute fortune in coffee and biscuits – and choccy ones at that. I’m lucky if I get even a Rich Tea. I think he might have been deprived in his early years and had an unhappy childhood.

Another input by ACT was their recommendation of ‘’NMIN’’ – a deep core test on arable land to determine the ‘nitrogen pool’ of the soil with early regional indications showing a level of between 35 kgs/Ha and 200 kgs/Ha for the season and once their results have been obtained, the Askews can then be confident that the amount of nitrogen top dressing that they apply is indeed the most optimum and economic.

This is a farm that, like lots of others, have experienced hardship – tragedy even, but the family tie and loyalty has helped them win through and I for one, wish them all well.