Who we are

HGCA: Independence, Innovation and Investment is a brief overview of who we are and what we do. Read about how HGCA is funded, what we invest in and how we add to a sustainable cereals and oilseeds industry.

HGCA: Independence, Innovation and Investment

Business development activity

Reaping Rewards

HGCA is committed to helping levy payers improve their productivity and cost management, including resource management, climate change, managing soils and water and market volatility.

To this end, HGCA runs a range of Business Development activities under the Reaping Rewards banner. From Arable Business Groups (ABGs) and Monitor Farms to workshops and conferences, the programme is designed to help farmers reap the rewards of the time and money invested in their arable businesses.

Through meeting with similar growers and expert speakers, the Reaping Rewardsinitiative is a great way for farmers to protect and enhance their business's profitability.

HGCA's Business Development programme across the UK is led by a team ofRegional Managers.


For more information on Business Development activities, contact the Regional Development Team.

  • Arable Business Groups
    HGCA’s Arable Business Group network looks at innovative ways of improving financial performance using CropBench+. Groups meet to find ways of making their businesses more efficient and sustainable.
  • Arable Monitor Farms
    Monitor Farms are normal commercial farms, where the farmer is prepared to allow other farmers access to the farm — and to the decision-making process. The other farmer members can then assess changes made on the monitor farm and are encouraged to adopt successful ideas themselves.
  • Events
    Each year HGCA delivers a range of events covering topics from marketing and price risk management to improving communication between growers and processors.

Contact Information

HGCA - Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
Stoneleigh Park

General enquiries

Vicky Horbury
Customer Service Executive

Tel: 0247 647 8730

email: [email protected]

TFF Advertising

Staff Member
Monitor Farm launch
1 December 2014

Now the smell of BBQ, coffee and dust in the workshop has settled I thought I would sum up the launch from my side of the fence. We had a great turn out for the launch, 52 growers in total and a few tag-a-longs made up of agronomists, machinery dealers and other industry representatives. Thank you for everyone who came and braved the weather. I hope you found it really positive and interesting.

I started off by setting the scene of how my own farming development had adapted and changed through my relatively short farming career. I chose to look in detail at my previous three winter wheat crops on the same field, then my previous three years of highest yielding oilseed rape fields and our general business approach to certain areas.


I pulled together information for one field over its previous three wheat crops with yield maps to emphasise my growing development. The 2011 crop of second wheat Glasgow showed huge variation in yield, with a field average of 9.6t/ha over 36ha. The 2014 crop of second wheat Horatio averaged 11.7t/ha and the variation of highest spot to lowest spot was a quarter of what it was in 2011. Okay, weather is the biggest factor that we cannot control and these exercises need to be taken with a pinch of salt; however as I started looking back at the agronomy decisions that I had taken, there was a really interesting development or pattern that could be seen. The table below highlights the change and adaption of my farming techniques through these three wheat harvests. (N.B. 2012 OSR)


I have always been someone who questions routine practices and likes to play around and trial new ideas. This is just who I am: I like to question myself and so I also identified the following points that I am now asking myself. These are areas that may come up in future Monitor Farm meetings as a group. The points are as follows:

  • Role of seed treatments; Redigo Deter, trace elements, take-off
  • Micronutrient feed throughout year
  • Reduced cultivations (direct drilling?, scratch the surface 50mm, plough depth)
  • Variable rate applications; N, P&K, seed rates
  • Crop nutrition; late N applications, fertiliser blends, fertiliser placement
  • Pre-harvest desiccation
  • Black-grass prevention
  • Headland yield improvements; compaction, seed rate, pests?
The oilseed rape was a similar story, however it was much more erratic with yield ranges from high to low much more concerning. I described oilseed rape as ‘oilseed risk’: many growers were finding that costs and risk for growing the crop was not being reflected in the gross margin return. When you factor in the risk and extra management of hail at harvest, chasing pigeons all winter, flea beetle without seed dressing and the unseen black-grass problem (we miss it but know it happens as our dirtiest fields always follow OSR) – with all this risk and un-added cost the final margin is very low. Myself and several in the room were losing the faith that this was a good crop to concentrate on, but, then again, what are the options?

These were the points that I had highlighted as areas that I want to improve my knowledge of:

  • Seed rates, drilling date, variety choice
  • Micronutrient feed throughout year
  • Establishment: drilling or broadcast
  • Variable rate applications: N, seed
  • Crop nutrition: late N applications, fertiliser blends, fertiliser placement
  • Black-grass prevention
  • Headland yield improvements
  • Pest threshold understanding
  • Pest prevention
The business and other crops had a brief introduction but many of the elements that I had spoken about were also reflected in the two main crops. This was basically me taking my farming decision clothes off in public: the attending farmers were free to ask questions but I wanted it to be a two way street for knowledge exchange.

I wanted something from them.

So this is where it got interesting. I had organised a computer program which allowed real time voting. Wireless clickers were given to everyone and I had prepared a series of questions relating to the topics I had discussed. We then as a group saw the graphs appear real time once the question had been explained by me. These are again results that you need to take with a pinch of salt but it gave a real insight into what people were thinking about the subject. I have picked out a few results that I thought were interesting.

  • 52% reckon that they were just about winning the battle against black-grass
  • 34% said that disease control gave them their biggest WW yield return, whereas only 20% said nutrition gave them their biggest yield return.
  • Only 15% growers used tissue analysis to monitor crop health on a regular basis, over 50% used it when symptoms were seen and 22% didn't see the need.
  • 33% saw micronutrients as being vital to yield development.
  • 62% tried to maintain a soil pH of between 6 and 7.
  • 30% of growers were using RTK level of guidance
  • 60% of growers had three or four years between OSR crops in their rotation.
  • 60% picked OSR variety on yield alone.
  • 50% established OSR by band sowing behind a subsoil leg.
  • 40% wanted to see fertiliser placement at sowing either first hand in field or as a harvest trial result.
  • 33% wanted to improve their OSR marketing for next year, 23% wanted to improve nutrition in OSR and 25% wanted to improve pest management.
  • 60% didn't know how they would use results from soil conductivity.
  • 22% still kept hand written crop records.
  • 52% said molluscs were their most prolific pests on all crops.
  • 5% used Twitter on a daily basis for farming information.

After a superb lunch and a quick wander around the farmyard and building we held group exercises where all the growers split into small groups to discuss points I had highlighted relating to business management, wheat production and OSR production. All this information is to be used to create the programme for the Monitor Farm group going forward. Some great discussion and feedback has come out of the day and now my steering group and I have the task of pulling together a series of meetings that will be both informative and helpful for as many people as possible going forward.


More information will follow about winter events and the program. Again thanks to those who came to the launch. If you want to get involved then please contact Tim Isaac, our HGCA Regional Manager.

Have a fun festive season and I hope to see you at the first meeting on Friday 9 January 2015.

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Staff Member
HGCA Monitor Farms bring together groups of like-minded farmers, who wish to develop or expand their enterprises, in an environment which encourages them to share critical performance information. This information is discussed and evaluated by the group, encouraging and facilitating business improvement through the adoption of new technology and practices.

The vehicle for this is a working farm supported by a Steering Group and facilitator, and the group of local farmers, who form themselves into an Arable Business Group that is linked to the monitor farm and who benchmark the performances of their businesses.

What distinguishes HGCA Monitor Farms is that they are ‘owned and operated’ by the group of local farmers – for farmers, by farmers. This results in issues and solutions being relevant to, and delivered in a format understood by the local farmers.

Monitor farms draw on local expertise, planning and community collaboration to improve farm production and make a big difference to farm profits. Success on a single farm provides nearby farmers with a wealth of practical and proven information to take home and use in their own enterprises.



New Member
HGCA’s newest Nuffield Scholar is to research the potential of companion cropping in UK arable systems.

For the next 18 months Andrew Howard, a farmer from Kent, will study examples of farms across the world which use companion cropping, both arable and non-arable

Companion cropping is the practice of growing two or more plant species in the same field at the same time, and includes intercropping, undersowing, relay cropping and pasture cropping. This includes cases where only one of the plant species is harvested, as well as where both crops are harvested.

Andrew Howard farms 345ha in a family partnership near Ashford, Kent, growing winter and spring wheat, winter and spring oilseed rape, spring oats, spring barley, winter barley, and field beans. His soils range from heavy weald clay to light sand. Andrew is a committee member of BASE UK, and member of LEAF and the Institute of Agricultural Management.

Andrew said: “I chose this topic because we’re already doing a lot of work on our farm to try and improve our soils, from no-till to cover cropping. We’ve got mixed species in our cover crops, and I want to see whether this will work in our cash crops. Companion cropping is a natural progression from what we’re doing so far.

“Another reason for choosing this subject is that we’re also facing increased input costs. There is evidence that companion cropping could reduce a farm’s fertiliser and herbicide usage, and so it could also be a way of reducing our cost of growing crops.”

Andrew has run small-scale trials of companion cropping for the last three years, after hearing French farmer Frédéric Thomas from Conservation Agriculture in Brittany speak on his experiments with companion cropping in 2012.

“The trials worked quite well. I’ve grown small areas of oilseed rape with vetches or a vetch and buckwheat mix, primarily on medium soils, and found the rape was better established, had better rooting, and we were able to reduce our herbicide usage, compared with our normal cropping. When I tried growing Peola (spring oilseed rape and spring peas together), for that trial, it gave us a better gross margin than the spring rape by itself. I’ve also tried undersowing spring cereals with clover, which hasn’t been successful yet.”

“With a Nuffield Scholarship I get to meet the best people around the world working on this and get more ideas on best practices. I want to find out what can and can’t work, and why.”

Andrew hopes in the long term to have a farm system which is self-sustaining, with healthy soils and minimum fertiliser and herbicide inputs.

“I want to keep improving the soils on my own farm and help other UK farmers to do likewise. Around the world during the last 60 years soils have been degraded, and I’d like to think that in the next 60 years I can help us to improve them again.”

Andrew follows two previous HGCA-sponsored Nuffield Scholars, Tom Sewell (2013) and Russell McKenzie (2014), who researched different aspects of no-till.

On what he hopes to gain from being a Nuffield Scholar, Andrew said: “A lot of it is the experience of meeting amazing people around the world. Being a Nuffield Scholar opens doors to see things I wouldn’t usually see and to meet with the global leaders in this field. Also, to bring back to the farm ideas on how to improve our cropping and costs, and even adding value to the crops at the same time. In the future it’ll give me a network of other Nuffield Scholars to keep in contact with and learn from.”

During the 18 months of his scholarship, Andrew will write regular blogs for hgca.com, and can be found tweeting @farmerandyh.
Andy is also a forum member, See 'My Nuffield Scholarship'

2015 has been designated by the UN as International Year of Soils, in a bid to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.

Is Red tractor detrimental to your mental health?

  • Yes, Red tractor increase my stress and anxiety

    Votes: 310 97.2%
  • No, Red tractor gives me peace of mind that the product I produce is safe to enter the food chain

    Votes: 9 2.8%

HSENI names new farm safety champions

  • 156
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Written by William Kellett from Agriland

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) alongside the Farm Safety Partnership (FSP), has named new farm safety champions and commended the outstanding work on farm safety that has been carried out in the farming community in the last 20 years.

Two of these champions are Malcom Downey, retired principal inspector for the Agri/Food team in HSENI and Harry Sinclair, current chair of the Farm Safety Partnership and former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Improving farm safety is the key aim of HSENI’s and the FSP’s work and...