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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Taking stock of harvest

On the last Tuesday of August, the combine finally gathered in the last crops of harvest. The spring beans had been left till last, as they stayed green in the stem and there was a large amount of spring-germinated bindweed growing in them, which required spraying off to help combine smoothly. We finally got them in the shed and were pleasantly surprised to find that they yielded considerably higher than anyone had expected, with the hardship of the spring that they had to contend with.
So now everything is safely gathered in, we can take stock of what has been a difficult year and see how we faired and what improvements we can make for next year.
Winter wheat is our main crop. The lack of rain through the spring had caused significant stress to the plants across the county and we were not the only ones to experience up and down yields. The fields planted early, yielded as expected, with all the crops producing over 10 Ton/ha. This is the magic number that we try and average over our whole wheat crop. In the average year - which the last was not - our first rotation wheat, (i.e. in fields that in the previous year have not been planted with wheat) would hopefully yield 11 T or 12 T/ha+. This is because the soil and plants would have benefited from a break-crop like beans, grass or oil seed rape in the intervening year, so there would be more natural nutrients available and yields would be up.  Again, our early planted second wheats (i.e. fields planted with wheat, following on the first year’s wheat) were up in the high 9 t/ha and some were over 10 t/ha which is what we would expect on our heavy clay soils which help maintain high wheat yields.
However, where the planting date had been late due to wet soil conditions in October and the soil conditions at planting were not as good as hoped, the crops always looked like they were under-performing on their potential. This was what we experienced when we combined them. Yields were down and in some cases really down. We were experiencing average yields of 7 T/ha plus, with no late field bettering 9 T/ha. We are very glad that we had two thirds of the farm planted before the weather changed in October. Once we pulled together all the GPS yield data off the SD card in the combine, we actually averaged smack on 9 T/ha over the whole wheat crop. This was as we had expected with the spring weather but some other farmers suffered much worse yields, due to even less rain, on lighter soils. We heard reports of a farmer averaging 3 t/ha near Newmarket!!
The Oil Seed Rape crops were the stand-out crop of the year, benefitting from the early drill date and the deep strong tap root development of brassica plants. The crop never really looked like it would suffer in the spring wilt. The only problem we had was actually killing it! We spray it off before we combine it, so that it is uniformly dry over the whole field but once we sprayed it we had no sunshine, just grey overcast conditions and this made the drying process a very long and frustrating one. We actually had to wait a month until we could combine it at a sensible moisture level, which set us behind in getting the store full, so we then got held up  clearing the store, which had later repercussions when we needed to bring the wheat in. The rape yield was very pleasing and we averaged over 5 t/ha and we now have two extra lorry loads left in store to be sold later in the year, a nice problem to have.
The Spring Oats and Beans were drilled in one of the driest springs in history but they somehow found moisture and produced very good crops. The Spring Oats and next year’s grass looked healthy all the way up to harvest. They were combined a little damp, so we have had to dry them a little bit, to prevent the seed going mouldy on the floor. The straw was also a problem as the oat plants were dead on top but had sent out new growth from the bottom with new green leaf.  Because of this mixture of dry dead straw and sappy growing shoots,  the straw would have been unsellable. We took a brave and unusual decision to chop the straw on to the layer of new grass growing underneath. This is dangerous as we could smother out the little grass plants, it was a uneasy wait but with a few showers of rain the grass soon got growing with the help of the late August Sunshine.
The Bean crop was even more surprising as the plants were heavily podded once we got into the field. The yield was close to 4.5 t/ha. The harvest was delayed by a week due to the crop requiring to be sprayed off, as there was a lot of spring germinated black bindweed staying green and this would have made combining difficult. We had to spray them off with a special chemical due to the beans being harvested for a seed grower’s contract, so ‘Round Up’ could not be used, as it may affect the germination of the seed because that particular spray is absorbed into the plant and kills from the inside. The special chemical we had to use basically scorches the green leaf, so it just burns off everywhere that it touches and kills the plant from the outside, not affecting the germination of the seed.
All in all, we are very happy with the harvest, everything ran smoothly and we avoided any accidents. A few ideas have been logged for next year and we will see how they develop, the major one being a possible redesign of the barn doors and trailer unloading area.
Work is now in full swing to prepare all the fields for next year’s crops. Hopefully the weather stays fair and we can get next year’s production off to a good start in nice, damp, fine, seed beds.              BWB  

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