By Debbie James

Arable production was always a major part of the 750-acre farming enterprise at Dudwell Farm near Haverfordwest but acreage has grown significantly since Tom Rees returned to farm with his father, Charles.

“That is the direction I wanted to take the business in,’’ explains Tom, whose mother Ruth, and his wife, Mary, also play an important part in the business.

“My dad and I have always enjoyed the arable side of the business, everything else just bolts onto the sides.’’

Crops grown include winter wheat, winter oats, oil seed rape, spring barley and spring beans.

The most important time of the year is mid-autumn because it is the autumn-sown crops that are the most lucrative.

Tom swears by the farming phrase ‘well sown is half grown’.

“If you can sow in the last week of September or early October the crop stands a good chance of doing well, any later and you are in the lap of the gods.’’

The grain is marketed through the co-operative, Crop Marketing (Groups) Ltd.

“I speak to them two or three times a week,’’ he says.

“The co-operative structure suits me, it is transparent and simple and it comes with a lot of protection because all the grain is insured against debt. I move quite a lot of grain so that gives me peace of mind.’’

This approach extends to the purchasing of his inputs – he sources the majority of these through the Pembrokeshire-based machinery ring, PMR Ltd.

Crop yields at Dudwell have been exceptional this year – the oil seed rape harvest produced a bumper crop thanks to good conditions for establishment.

This is being stored on a farm in Liverpool, owned by a friend he met while they were both members of the NFU cereal development programme in 2014; it will be sold in January and February.

That programme instilled the benefits of sharing knowledge, a mindset that led to Dudwell becoming a monitor farm for AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds. The farm will host its next meeting on November 28 with a meeting at Camrose Community Hall at noon.

The family’s farming enterprise includes beef and sheep, although the beef enterprise has been scaled down since a major bovine TB breakdown 18 months ago.

That resulted in the loss of more than half the productive herd, leaving only 15 cows. Until then around 35 calves were also bought in to rear through to fattening but that side of the business couldn’t continue because of movement restrictions.

Even though the herd went clear in January, the Reeses haven’t got plans to increase cow numbers.

“At 15 we have a good starting block should be decide to return to beef on a bigger scale,’’ says Tom.

A flock of 260 Texel-cross ewes is run on off-lying land until the beginning of December when they return to Dudwell to graze cover crops until just before lambing at the beginning of February.

Those crops have an important role to play in improving soil structure, to improve its workability and to capture nutrients.

The business is aiming for no-till drilling – currently a min-till technique is used for drilling crops.

Catch crops grown vary, mostly dictated by the time of the year they can be sown.

“If they can be drilled by mid-August we buy the slightly more expensive mixes, ones that are a bit more diverse, because we know we will get a good yield from it for the sheep to graze on. If we are going to get the growth we are happy to spend a bit more money,’’ says Tom.

“Anything that gets planted from then until mid-September tends to be a cheaper mix of vetch and phacelia because we know we won’t get the growth, we are growing it for the root structure.’’

Lamb quality is the driver in the sheep enterprise – nearly every carcase achieves a U or E grade from a mostly forage-based diet.

A recent diversification is an 895kW biomass boiler which heats two grain drying floors.

This has transformed decisions around harvesting and has enabled the business to grow more crops.

Whilst the business previously relied on mobile driers which were both labour intensive and expensive to run, 400 tonnes of grain can now be dried within 24 hours.

Instead of concentrating on the moisture content of the grain before harvesting combining can now be done earlier which means better quality straw and grain.