Rutherford brothers, Martin and Neil, are the fourth generation of the family to farm Tower Martin, in Northumberland, and are farming arable land to a high standard, producing quality and sought after grain.

Purchased in 1912 by Martin and Neil’s great grandparents, Tower Martin Farm comprises of just 65ha, however with additional land purchases, tenanted farms and contract farming agreements, R Rutherford and Sons now manages 1589ha in it’s entirety.

The expansion of the family business was driven by Martin and Neil’s father, John Rutherford, who had the ambition to ensure his business grew and became a viable venture for the next generation. John’s sound farming knowledge and friendly personality enabled him to gain contracting work, which led to larger contract farming agreements with neighbouring landowners.

“As a family we are eager to ensure the work we produce is professional and to the highest-standard and we thrive in going beyond expectations, ensuring thoroughness in accomplishing each task,” Neil stated.

“Our work is noticed as being of exceptional quality and leads to referral and recommendation, and we are extremely proud of the work we do.”

The current farming business operates a range of soil types and topographies, ranging from light sandy-silt-loam to heavy red clay and reaches heights of 525ft above sea level.

This year, Martin and Neil are growing 700ha of winter wheat, 48ha of winter hybrid barley, 285ha of oilseed rape and 220ha of winter oats, as well as 60ha under contract for potatoes and 170ha for a spring crop.

With wheat as one of the main crops, varieties include Skyfall, Extase, Barrel, Skyscraper, Colosseum and Gleam.

“The winter wheat is spread out in variety and groups to aid harvest workload. We grow Skyfall as our group one milling wheat on lighter, more drought prone land, while other varieties are chosen on their agronomic features and grain quality and quantity abilities,” explained Martin.

All oats produced at the farm are for human consumption on a milling contract with Pepsi-Co, and the Rutherford’s have opted to use the Gerald and Dalguise varieties for their winter crop, while the spring oat grown is Canyon.

Their oilseed rape area is split 60:40 of HEAR and double-low varieties, specifically including the high erucic acid rapes (HEAR) Resort and Rames, and the double-low, Acacia, while the majority of the barley crop – whole cropped for the farm’s cattle enterprise – is the bran-filling Kingsbarn.

“We find that the best rotation for our system is comprised of winter wheat, oats, barley or wheat, oilseed rape and a spring crop of either potatoes or spring oats,” said Martin.

The use of fertilisers is an essential part of crop development and growth, providing vital nutrients and helping increase yields. The Rutherfords use a liquid fertiliser supplied by Yara, with the grades being N30, 10.9S and N37. Fertiliser is used on all combinable crops on a three-way split and applied from February to the end of April – with the final applications applied before flag leaf emergence.

“We will use approximately 900m3 liquid fertiliser throughout the cropping year and also use Origin Granulated TSP, MOP, DAP and Calci-Lime, with DAP being applied at establishment through grain and fertiliser drill we use a Horsch Pronto 8DC,” explained Martin.

With harvest kicking off in July with barley and ending in the middle of September, the Rutherfords currently operate two drying systems on farms that are under contract, as well as also sending away grain to be dried in local co-op grain stores.

“This year, we are investing in a third drying facility and a new grain storage facility on an owned farm. We have the capacity to store 5000 tonnes of grain between the farms we own and contract farm,” commented Martin.

For harvesting, the family operate two 35ft tracked combines in the form of a Massey Ferguson Ideal and Claas Lexion, which are both equipped with GPS yield mapping.

“We chose to use tracked combines as the tracks give lower ground pressure, which is useful for the differing land terrain we have,” said Neil.

As with any arable enterprise, pests are proving to be a constant battle when trying to protect crop and one which the Rutherfords are still combatting.

“Pigeons are a constant battle as they plague oilseed rape. We have minor flea beetle issues in oilseed rape establishment and with the disappointing removal of neonics, we have had to move more to lambdacyhalothrin, which is proving to be less effective,” added Martin.

Cover crops increasingly play a huge role in arable farming, as their root structure is vital to retaining soil structure and fertility, as well as preventing surface run-off of soil, nutrients and minerals and reducing soil erosion.

“We grow phacelia and black oats as an over winter cover crop prior to spring cropping on a four-year rotation. We have found this increases the organic matter in the soils and, as such, aids drought resistance,” explained Neil.

“This has worked well to increase our wheat yield by 0.7 tonne per ha in our recent in-house cropping trial.”

To maximise soil structure and fertility, Martin and Neil regularly GPS SOYL sample their land, which allows them to carry out variable application of phosphate, potassium and lime. In addition, they also apply farm yard manure regularly which comes from the livestock units.

With any highly productive enterprise, the need for quality, reliable and long-lasting machinery is a given and the Rutherfords put their main trust in Agco products.

“Our prime cultivation tractors are three Agco Challengers. We choose to use Agco products as we have a good working relationship with our local dealer,” Martin stated.

“We pride ourselves in investing in high-quality equipment and machinery to gain efficiency and optimise crop production.”

“Our best purchase was probably our first tracked tractor as this opened our eyes to the benefits of tracked traction,” Neil added.

“We were able to maintain constant speed over varying terrain giving increased output and using less fuel per ha. The Challengers have been a great asset to the expansion of the business over the past decade and have proven to be very reliable.”

The team also run a fleet of Massey Ferguson wheeled tractors for road work, grain carting, implement logistics, fertiliser spreading and rolling.

Martin and Neil also rely on the Bateman RB35 36m sprayer, as well as two Horsch Terrano MT, one Kuhn eight furrow ‘on land’ plough, one 8m Pronto DC grain and fert seed drill, one Horsch Joker and 12.5m Dalbo rollers.

The need for accuracy at Tower Martin is essential and is something the family feel that they have achieved by the use of GPS.

“We started using GPS steering in 2007 as a driver aid and quickly realised the potential for increased output and decreased input costs,” commented Neil. “In 2009, we moved to variable rate fertiliser, which was shortly followed by variable rate seed.”

Currently, all farm equipment is equipped with the Agleader RTK GPS guidance, which allows live mapping of all cultivation works, as well as prescription application files for fertiliser spreading and seed drilling.

“The sprayer is fitted with Optrix nitrogen sensors and, as such, liquid N products can be applied at variable rate, on the move, day or night,” added Martin.

Professional advice is an important aspect of modern farming and choosing the right agronomist can hugely impact the quality and quantity of products leaving the farm gate. With this in mind, Martin and Neil seek the advice and expertise of local agronomist, Jim Callaghan, of JC Agronomy, who is an independent agronomist and a member of the AICC.

“We use Jim because of his proven wealth of knowledge and the ability to price chemicals independently of any mainstream supplier, so giving us the ability to buy the product at the best possible price,” explained Martin.

“Alongside Jim, we use Alex Cazaly, from Agrovista, to keep us up to date with Agrovista’s ongoing trial works on new fungicides and amino acids.”

As well as reliable agronomists, the family also lean on rural surveyors for advice on the value of farm and estate assets, legal and tax issues and the planning and development of land use.

“We firmly believe that having professional knowledge is important and regularly use the expertise of Adeline Jones, who works as a rural surveyor at George F White. We are lucky enough that she is becoming part of the Rutherford family in July, as Neil and Adeline are set to get married!” said Martin.

“Adeline has an appreciation of the challenges of managing the changes that affect farming enterprises and issues faced by changing legislation. We are an innovative and open minded business and Adeline’s professional knowledge allows us to be diverse and maximise the business opportunities of our property,” added Neil.

Farming schemes can be a beneficial attribute to farmers, whether that be as a financial support or for environmental preservation, which are some of the reasons behind why the Rutherford family have chosen to have 106ha of their land dedicated to schemes.

“We have entered into quality country stewardship schemes across our holdings. We are fortunate to be farming in ‘high priority water catchment areas’, and as such we have invested in improving our farm steadings with concrete yard renewal and sheds for livestock handling,” Neil said.

“We have taken some poorer quality land out of constant production and then utilised it in the best and most fitting land-based stewardship options.”

Whilst the country stewardship scheme supplies financial incentives to look after and improve the environment, it also provides additional capital during the Agricultural Transition Period.

The Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), which is going to be a substitute the Basic Payment Scheme, will reward farmers for providing ‘public goods’.

“Key areas include improving soil health, protecting and improving livestock and plant health and welfare, and protecting and improving the environment. As such, we consider the current Countryside Stewardship Schemes are an incentive to get ELMS-ready,” stated Adeline.

As well as managing a busy arable and livestock enterprise, the Rutherford family also own 11 rental properties providing an additional income stream, as well as recently reducing their herd of 200 breeding cattle and diversified some buildings for holding 2000 bed and breakfast pigs.

With multiple ventures being undertaken by the Rutherfords, the business still continues to be predominately family-run, with Neil and Martin taking on the bulk of the arable work to allow their father, John, to take a back seat and pass on the responsibility.

The saying ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ could not be more true in this family, as Martin and Neil’s mother, Dianne, continues to be the organ grinder and ensures all paperwork, record keeping and accounts are kept up-to-date and faultless.

As well as family, the farm is also home to two full-time employees who manage the livestock and supplement arable processes when required throughout the year. In addition, the family are fortunate to be able to rely on local, self-employed individuals, who return year on year during busy periods such as harvest and livestock work.

Looking to the future of their enterprise, the family are hopeful that their business shall continue to grow and flourish. “Our main aim it to continue to grow our farming business and the future is undoubtedly going to put financial strain on many farming businesses,” Martin commented.

“We are constantly analysing our past performance, review assets in detail and identify whether they are being fully utilised. Benchmarking is more important than ever as it gives us the ability to understand where our weaknesses lie and allows us to focus on ways to address them,” added Neil.

The family budget and prepare cashflow forecasts each year to understand how profitable their business will be going forward and how much cash the business will have available during each year.

“We hope this will allow us to become ‘bank-ready’ and not miss out on opportunities that may arise such as capital investments or rental opportunities,” Neil concluded.