The Cereals Event returns this year to its regular Lincolnshire site, so host farmer Alastair Priestley provided an insight into his working life, what it’s like to provide the ground for the UK’s largest arable event and his goals for the future.
Mr Priestley grew up less than 20 miles from East Mere Farm, Lincolnshire, where he is now managing director at Patrick Dean Farms and Aubourn Farming. He studied agriculture at Newcastle University and took accountancy qualifications afterwards.
“It might not be the normal course,” he explained. “But I wouldn’t have this job if I hadn’t done accountancy; looking back now, it’s the best thing I could have done. And as much as I like being out in the field farming, the figures are as important as the farming.”
Patrick Dean Farms has grown significantly since he started 15 years ago, with increased cropping area and it now has 30 staff and has recently taken a major stake in Aubourn Farming which farms around 3,237ha. Together they run a Case Quadtrac, Cat Challenger, 8m Vaderstad drill, two 36m Bateman sprayers, two Fastracs and six John Deere tractors and a Fendt 942.
The enterprise grows an extensive range of crops, including; 1,416ha of winter wheat, 405ha of sugar beet, 304ha of spring barley, 283ha of potatoes, 275ha of poppy seeds for the culinary market, 121ha of beans, 121ha of oats, 41ha of peas and 41ha of oilseed rape – down from 506ha drilled in 2020. In addition, there are areas of fallow, in stewardship and rented out. The soil varies from easy working light limestone heathland and a more bodied, heavier type in the Witham valley.
Variety is what Mr Priestley enjoys most about farming. “No day is ever the same and I love working in the countryside.”
So how did he come to host the Cereals Event? “We’re very fortunate that the site lends itself to the event; it’s free draining with good access and a concrete perimeter track all around it, so everyone can get on and off using that. We don’t own much of the perimeter track but are able to collaborate with other local farmers who own the rest of it to enable the event to happen,” said Mr Priestley.
“We’ve been hosting it since 2011, so we know the site works, Comexposium knows the site works and so do the police,” he added. “We like hosting the event; it’s great to have demonstrations on our farm as ultimately we all want to see how a piece of kit works on our own land.”
The site is kept in a rotation of wheat and grass and once the wheat has been harvested it is ploughed and put into grass, however, the trial plot area is continually managed by Comexposium’s partners. Post event, Comexposium organises leaving the site clean and tidy, so it should be ready for Mr Priestley to drill the next wheat crop.
This year, in particular, the big draw of the event will be for farmers to get off their own land and meet other people after lockdown, said Mr Priestley. “It’s good to get out there, exchange ideas and learn what others are doing and why they are doing it. The networking is personally why I like to go.
“When wandering around an event, subconsciously you’re taking things on board through chatting to people – you pick up ideas far more than you realise.”
Mr Priestley’s next focus is to expand the contracting side of the business to reduce overheads and to drive down costs of production to mitigate the gradual phasing out of Basic Payments. “We are looking at what to do next and want to grow our client base by continually adopting new and innovative technologies.”
The Cereals Event will be held in Lincolnshire from 30 June to 1 July, complying with all biosecurity measures against Covid-19. For more information or to register for tickets visit www.cerealsevent.co.uk and use the code ‘FREE1’.