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YEN Winner

The traditional ways are the best, according to Chris Eglington.

And the Norfolk-based farmer has just proved it, by winning a prestigious Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) Award.

The Milling Wheat Yield & Quality Award, sponsored by UK Flour Millers, recognises the farmer who achieves high yields alongside excellent quality.

And with a yield of 10.9 tonnes per hectare and a protein level of 14.4% with variety Crusoe, Chris was a worthy winner in a notoriously competitive category.

The judges noted that in final baking the gluten was of very good strength, leading to a high loaf volume and excellent quality in the breadcrumb.

Following his win, Chris admits that the secret to his success is to eschew imported – and expensive –fertiliser and nitrogen on his fields, and instead using the natural by-products of his existing livestock.

“We started off as dairy and pig farmers in 1974, before switching our emphasis to arable the early 1990s,” Chris says.

“But we still have cattle on the farm. We feed them straw, which comes back as muck, which goes onto the fields. In terms of looking after the soil and maintaining its organic quality, livestock is much better than buying bags of fertiliser and nutrients.

“Yes, it’s an old-fashioned way of doing things – but sometimes the old ways are best.”

Cultivating milling wheat – which is used in breadmaking, and which accounts for about 52 percent of the flour milled in the UK – is traditionally labour-intensive and expensive.

To meet the three quality criteria – protein, moisture and Hagberg falling number – require more inputs, so costs more to grow. This, combined with a reputation for lower yields, means that there has traditionally been reluctance to grow it.

UK Flour Millers sponsor this particular award to highlight to farmers that it is possible to grow quality milling wheat that meets all the specs and has high yield, and Chris’s success proves that where there’s a will there’s a way.

And he has achieved success almost single-handed.

“We have a 1,000 acre arable farm, but we also have a very simple system,” he says. “At one time we had 13 people working here, but now there’s just me and a lad working together with a combine. I wish I’d thought of it years ago.”

Despite his belief in tradition, Chris maintains a keen interest in farming technology, which first came to the fore in the 90s when he was one of the first dairy farmers in the UK to use embryo transplant procedures on his cattle.

“Back then we had to take them to scientists at Cambridge University, and now you can do it on the farm. It’s just an example of the massive changes which have taken place over the last 50 years since I’ve been farming.

“I like tech – although I tend to be the idiot who goes in at the beginning.”

Most recently, Chris has been involved with the development of drones which can be used for what he describes as “precision agriculture”. The project has been stymied by current legislation, but he is confident it will one day become commonplace, revolutionising the job.

“These things always take time, but farming needs to evolve to survive. And although it’s a tough, 24/7 existence, I’ve no intention of packing it in anytime soon. I’m 68 now, but I still love it. I want to get up and go to work in the morning.”


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