About Us

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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.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Share your story!

Share your farming story

Forest of Bowland, general views showing sheep by tree
Do you eat the food produced by the UK's farmers? Have you watched a barn owl float silently across the fields where you walk your dog? Or perhaps you grew up on or near a farm?
If yes then we’d love to hear from you! Can you please spare us just a few minutes of your time?
We’d like to know what farming and farmland means to you. We’re involved in an exciting new project called ‘Farming Stories’, but you don’t need to be a farmer to tell us your story!
What’s your connection?
Whether you have a personal story, or views about something you've read or heard about farming, we’d love to hear from you. All you need to do is fill in a quick survey form and you’re done. But hurry, you’ve only got until 12 December.
Perhaps you have more than one story you’d like to share? No problem! You can submit as many as you like and it only takes a few minutes each time.
How your story helps
Your contribution will help us better understand what farming really means to people in the UK, and will help guide our work with farmers, so why not share your story today?
Follow the link below and let the RSPB and the Oxford Farming Conference what you think of the farmers today.......The good, the bad and the Ugly!


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

I’m a pin up now! Mr November and Mr December!

Farmland bird populations have been in the media since the 1980’s when the decline in numbers was first seen and recorded. A huge decline in populations of Grey Partridge, Turtle Doves, Yellowhammers, Linnet, Lapwing, Corn Buntings etc. has led to land owners and the agricultural industry changing practice and mind set, to try and reverse this decline. The success of this reverse in populations lies within the willingness of land owners and farmers to sign up to an environmental scheme like Higher Level or Entry Level Stewardship Schemes. 70% of all farmland in Suffolk is covered by one of the types of Environmental Schemes and this means that 70% of farmers are doing a bit to help the wildlife in our county. 
However with all the will in the world by these 70% of farmers in Suffolk, the decline is still being recorded in certain species and more needs to be done. Farmers have the skills and the resources to put areas of wild seed mixes, pollen and nectar patches, rough grassland and new hedgerows back into the countryside but if they do not attract or help the species in decline, then the farmer needs some helping hands. Science holds the key, we need to study and investigate what the bird populations are doing and why some are recovering their populations and some still struggle. Can the farmers do something slightly different to make all populations prosper?
The members of Waveney Bird Club are doing their bit. They have started a Farmland bird ringing programme on a number of farms in Suffolk, looking at the winter foraging range of certain species. Yellowhammers, Reed Bunting, Linnet and Tree Sparrow are the target species for this project. The aim is to catch, ring and monitor the populations of these species with wild seed mixes and other feeding habitats on farms and then monitor the distance that they might travel to find another food source in winter. For this to happen, they need to re-catch a rung bird in the net again. This will then produce a control, as those birds will then start to build up a web of travel and catch records that show where they have been or come from.
The ringing is done on a winter’s day by volunteers who are fully trained by the BTO. They feed the vital statistics of sex, weight, condition and numbers into the BTO.  Then, as re-catches occur, the project starts to get the information needed to fulfil the aim of the study.  More information about the project can be found at http://www.waveneybirdclub.com/farmland-birds-project.asp
The Waveney Bird Club carries the cost of the rings, buying nets and poles and then at the end of the three years, they will need to fund the BTO to do a full statistical investigation into the findings. Then, hopefully, it can be published. Patrick is one of the project co-ordinators and our farm is one of the farms involved in the ringing of the species.  So, when the Waveney Bird Club committee needed to look for funding, we were only too happy to help.
This has led to the launch of the Waveney Bird Club 2013 Calendar. Four club members have donated a number of their best photos for the creation of a calendar where all profits go to the project. I am one of the photographers that have the privilege of being used for a couple of months. Lucky for many, the Yellowhammers and Hedgehog star in the last two months of the calendar and not me! But it is all for a very worthwhile cause.
If you would like to help out with the project and buy a calendar, they are being sold by the club for a bargain price of £5 plus a bit extra for P&P if that is the case. The Waveney Bird Club Event Organiser is the lady you need to get in contact with on email at events@waveneybirdclub.com  or by phone 01986 893311, to guarantee your calendar arrives ready for the New Year!     BWB

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Story of the week

We have loads of publications that arrive in the farm office and most are filled with interesting articles, so I will be sharing the one a week that made me think. This is the first an horrific statistic that we need to sort. BWB

Monday, 15 October 2012

Me.......Speechless for once!

Wow what a busy few weeks we have had and sorry that the blog has been put on the back burner! The farm is wet and the farm needs to be planted with crops ready for another year’s work. The weather has not been kind and so it has been all hands to the pump when it clears up, which has meant that my office has been run from my iPhone recently, inside four glass panels, bouncing along a field.

About a year ago, I was invited to speak at the Rotary International District 1240 conference in Northamptonshire. This came about after I had done a couple of talks for different Rotary clubs and hosted Colchester Rotary club for a farm tour about 18 months ago. Even being booked 12 months in advance, the weekend soon came round and I quickly found myself tweaking my PowerPoint presentation so that it would flow for the full half an hour that I had been allocated. Now, thirty minutes to sum up what we do on the farm with food production and wildlife management is rather difficult and I find myself talking very quickly. However, I got it all sent off to the Conference organiser in advance and everything seemed ok.

My girlfriend, Aimee, and I headed up to the hotel as we had been invited to attend the dinner dance on the Saturday night. We did have a minor ‘D’ tour due to our TomTom not knowing that the M1 at Milton Keynes had been altered but we got there in good time.

We were greeted and made to feel so welcome by all the Colchester Club members who were attending the Conference and supporting The District Governor, Ian McMeekan, who is a Colchester member.

The dinner dance was a lovely occasion with the great company and the added element of an after dinner game I brought along called ‘Corx’.  There was a bit of table envy as people were interested in what all the noise and commotion was about and I think a few ‘Corx’ sets have been added to Christmas present lists.

My conference slot was Sunday morning and, after a good hotel breakfast, I was ready to get going. I was announced on to the stage and, as I started, hit the button and the film that introduces the farm failed! The tech guy got busy sorting it, leaving me with a ‘rabbit in headlight moment’ but we were soon under way again and the talk flowed like I had hoped. I closed my talk bang on time and I was really happy how it went.

Ian came on stage, to do what I thought was going to be just a vote of thanks, but he asked me to stay up on stage. As I did, Ian produced a piece of paper from his folder and started to read it. It was a letter that Colchester Rotary had written to the International Rotary Committee. The letter read as follows;

Early last year we had a talk at Rotary by Brian Barker. He spoke about how he and his cousin, Patrick, ran the Lodge Farm at Westhorpe, Stowmarket.

Brian explained how he and his cousin worked together on their family farm with the aim of running a modern commercial 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.

The mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that their fathers and grandfather did to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength, being recognised at a national level. It won the coveted National Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009. Brian and Patrick were named Countryside Farmers of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

 Following the talk by Brian, a number of Rotarians were invited to visit the farm at Westhorpe and were very impressed to see at first hand the magnificent work that was taking place, not only in farming but in conservation. Following the visit I suggested to Rtn. Pat Driver (President at the time), that we should consider both for a PHF. As you know Brian will be speaking at the District Conference this year.

 Honours Committee will you kindly consider my proposal that Brian and Patrick be presented with PHFs at the District Conference.

Ian then produced two leather bound certificates and lapel pins from behind the stage and presented me with a ‘Paul Harris Fellows’ Award and one for Patrick as well. At this point I was totally stunned and speechless. I did not know much about the Rotary Club and Ian explained that a ‘Paul Harris Fellow’ Award was given to Rotary Club members for (quote from the certificate) ‘appreciation of tangible and significant assistance for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world.’

Ian then explained that these awards can be requested and given to non-Rotarians if the club members feel that a person or persons deserve recognition for whatever service they offer the wider world.  I was truly honoured to receive mine and Patrick’s, on behalf of him.

We have been lucky enough to be recognised within the farming world for our approach to farming but this award is I think rather more special as it comes from outside of farming.  People who have done and seen so much of different industries felt that our approach to our business of farming and conservation, functioning hand in hand, was working so well. I am truly grateful to Colchester Rotary Club for nominating and presenting us with this very unexpected award. The more and more I research and learn about the award, I feel even more honoured.   

The Colchester Crew
So a huge thanks from Patrick and me to the Colchester Rotary Club and a special thank you to all ‘Colchester Crew’ who made Aimee and me so welcome over the weekend in Daventry. We look forward for the return farm tour next June when the lapel pin will be polished and worn with pride. BWB



Thursday, 27 September 2012

Farm Weather Station

Back in September 2011 I bought a weather station for the farm, weather has always intested me and I wanted to have up to date information about the climate right over the farm. I also bought the data logger so I could record it all on my computer, this would make farm spray day predictions easier and allow traceability about what the weather was when chemical were applied on the farm if there was ever a problem!

What a year to start it on, this shows the strange weather we have had and how it affected the growing seasons. Sept, Oct and Nov warm and dry causing the herbicides to be less effective leading to weed problems in Spring. The Winter was realitively mild with only a few hard frost which allowed aphids to live and move all winter carrying plant and animal viruses. The Spring was VERY wet and warm which created the perfect conditions for disease growth on the crops and the Summer was short lived with little sun and high rain levels.

All in all a facinating piece of equipment and well worth the money if cost. Our weather interest has been increased and now we learn about the full chart predictions from Simon Keelings web casts posted by him each day. http://www.weatherweb.net/wxwebtv2.php A very detailed weather prediction that was pretty much right all through harvest.


Harvest 2012 Done!

Harvest 2012 promised so much.......

Loomed with anticipation, lingered with intent and disappeared with the saying ‘if only’! That is how I would describe harvest 2012.

Looking back at the start we were worried that the fields would be too wet to travel after our wet spring and the crops looked full of potential until the late surge of disease knocked that on the head.

Once the combine started to rumble, the oil seed rape crop was first to feel its force of knives, rotors and sieves. It had died quickly with the help of the ‘Round up’ and it made for easy combining as the crop had a strong structure and was standing tall. Yield was a down on what we had hoped for but this could have been due to the wet drawn-out period around flowering, this didn’t help pod production with limited pollination by insects and then after that, when we didn’t want insects, we got the wrong one called ‘Pod Midge’ that bites into the pod, lays an egg and dies which then means that pod is destined to be a lunch for a grub not put in my combine tank!

Grass harvest made easy by late July Sunshine
Next crop ready was the herbage grass seed. All I can say is, “Wow, what a year to grow grass!”  Rain, rain, rain and sun at the end! I’m sure you got fed up of cutting your lawns as the conditions just promoted grass growth and this was reflected in our yields. Although half had grown through and proved to be tricky to combine, the stripper header records hovered up close to a hundred tons in total which is a cracking yield.

Our neighbours by this time were starting into the wet wheat crop on their farms and we started to hear reports of up and down yields. No rhyme or reason but the yields were jumping about and the quality was shot to pieces due to the late disease.  We had a couple of false starts, eager to get on, but the moisture was not near the magic 15.5% I wanted. We got it eventually and the elastic band holding the combine in the shed broke and we were off.  As expected, the yields were all over the shop.  Variety and drilling date caused the biggest differences but it was very strange. The crops combined like bumper crops but the ears of wheat were full of empty grain sites or very small shrivelled grains. It was certainly not going to be the bumper harvest we thought back in the early spring before the wet weather. The straw was green and did not want to die after all the fungicides we had used to keep the plant green and free from disease. It made for a very slow harvest. Most evening air was damp and this caused the combine to stop thrashing at around 9pm each night. Normally we can keep moving well up to 11pm and sometimes after. The weather did change for the middle of August and we started our marathon. We harvested wheat for 11 days straight, starting around 10am and finishing at 9.30pm. It was probably the longest combining stretch I can remember but it was at crawling pace. We got over it at last and the wheat is in the barn ready to be sold. The yields look to be just above our 10 year average but below our 5 year average. The market is reflecting what everyone has found around the country:  quality down, yields unknown and this has driven the price up, so now we just need to market it correctly to smooth out the reduced yield short falls. The marketing is really important because it was the most expensive wheat crop the farm has ever grown! The money we spent on disease control pushed the variable costs through the roof. Was it worth it? Time will tell, when the account crunches the numbers!

The later crops were a mixed bag, Spring Linseed went really well. First year of growing it and we like it when the instructions while combining say, ‘maintain a high forward speed!’. We are looking at growing this again next year.  However, this wet spring and harvest conditions were the final nails in the coffin of our growing Naked Oats. It’s the crop we under-sow our grass into. The wet weather caused them all to ‘lodge’ which is when the crop buckles and falls over, this left us very concerned for the small grass underneath and we can’t take that risk again, so we are going back to the safer growing option of Spring Barley but with a possible yield and financial hit. The spring beans were again consistent with the previous years and were wrapped up in a day’s combining, so a nice easy finished to a slow and drawn-out harvest. 

What now?  Well, the fields have turned brown very quickly, the new rape crop is in the ground and coming up and, fingers crossed, this weekend we will start the wheat planting. The new crop year has started and we will see what comes to test, push and surprise us in the next twelve months. I’m sure there will be surprises along the way but nothing too serious I hope! My first surprise after the harvest dust was settling was to hear that my almost 92 year old Nana has learnt to write text messages! Certainly no reason for anyone to be a technophobe!  BWB

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A treat of a hobby.

Young Hobby in Westhorpe in 2011 taken by Mike Rae (www.mikerae.com)
The opportunities for watching wildlife at this time of year can be somewhat limited from the tractor cab. As the combine works it's way up and down the fields I am always pleased to see how many different species are taking cover in the oil seed rape and wheat crops and it reminds us that we still needs to leave cover once the fields are completely clear of crops to give them somewhere to hide from predators. The numbers of young pheasants and partridges we have seen this year have been especially pleasing given the difficulties they had with the wet weather earlier in the summer.

The highlight of the harvest so far though has come in front of the mower rather than the combine. Nick was mowing the grass seed stubble to remove the long dead grass and as he was driving up and down the field he was disturbing the skylarks taking refuge in the long(ish) grass. A hobby had realised this and was sitting on the ground waiting for Nick to drive past before making its move after the skylarks. The skylarks knowing the hobby was gunning for them were waiting until the tractor was almost upon them before they flew as short a distance as possible before dropping back in the grass. Because of how close the skylarks were to the tractor, trying to evade the Hobby, Nick and I (who by now had rushed up to see the show) were treated to the spectacle of the agile Hobby flying around the tractor cab in an attempt to catch the skylarks. At times the Hobby was no more than 5 metres from the cab and provided a tremendous display. This went on for over half an hour before the Hobby gave up and left to hunt somewhere else empty talloned It will not be long until the Hobbys are making their way back to Sub Saharan Africa so it was a real treat to witness one at such close quarters. PB

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Barn Owl Success in Westhorpe

In May I wrote about the increased Barn Owl activity around one of our Barn Owl boxes ( Click Here to View) and here is the update...

Barn Owl hunting in Westhorpe - Mike Rae (www.mikerae.com)

Barn Owl breeding has been more a tale of heartache than success in recent years with only one chick fledging from a brood of 3 that hatched last year from 5 eggs. The two chicks that died were both good sizes and the only explanation I can think of for it is that one of the adults vanished and the two chicks starved to death. The most common cause of death for Barn Owls is being hit on the road and the female (I know this as I had the opportunity to ring her in the winter) was left to do all of the hunting on her own. The single chick did fledge which was our first successful breeding since I have been on the farm. Also at our Great Ashfield farm a pair of Barn Owls abandoned a single egg in 2011.

I was quietly optimistic when I saw two birds together on film around the box, one with a ring on which I am hoping is last winter's female and a new male which is unringed.  On 17th April I checked the box for the first time and there was a Barn Owl sitting on 5 eggs that I could see. I was very careful not to scare the Owl out of the box and made sure that she was not disturbed off the eggs. By blocking the entrance hole and using the inspection hatch and a torch I was able to have a good look in the box and then quietly left the area. I should add that Barn Owls are a schedule 1 species, I am an accredited agent of a schedule 1 license holder and it is a criminal offence to disturb a schedule 1 species without a license.

Knowing that the incubation period of Barn Owls is 32 days and they are 53 days from hatching to fledging I had a nervous wait for seven weeks not knowing whether there would be healthy chicks or cold eggs in the box. I was able to see Barn Owls hunting on our grassland and over our neighbours paddocks most evenings so I was fairly optimistic that the news would be good.

I revisited the box on the 9th June to find...


..three good sized, healthy chicks were huddled up in the corner of the box. On the 11h June I ringed the 3 chicks so they are now individuals. I was also able to determine their ages by measuring the 7th primary feather, which is a technique devised by Colin Shawyer and was demonstrated on Springwatch this year. The chicks were as follows - Chick 1 -Ring number -  GC92390, 7th primary feather - 42mm = 36 days old, Chick 2 - GC92391, P7=70mm = 42 days old and Chick 3, P7= 85mm = 45 days old. At the time I was ringing the chicks, the adults were both waiting to bring food into the box so we got them back in as soon as possible and got out of the way so they could be fed whilst the weather was good. I had my worries about the chicks not getting enough food as we had a great deal of heavy rain through June and July as Barn Owls will not hunt in the rain.

At this time I put up the remote camera and left it looking at the box to see if I could capture any good footage of the young owls and they got older, braver and eventually fledging.

After 3 weeks the batteries had run out out on the camera but I had over 300 15 second videos and this is my favourite one showing exactly how a short-tailed vole is eaten by an owlet.

One of the adults bringing food back to the young.

Since the videos were made I have watched the young owls flying around, gradually getting further away from the box but reassuringly the adults always seem to be on hand with food and teaching them how to hunt. Now that four out of five of the birds are ringed we will know if any are found at a later date and be able to trace them back to Westhorpe. PB

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Dust Monster

Wheat harvest has started and we are covering about 25ha a day. The combine is working hard due to the oil conditions being soft as well as the straw being a little green. This is due to the wet weather in the build up to harvest. We are also chopping all the straw to incorporate it back into the soil to aid its structure and improve organic matter levels which causes more fuel to be burnt. We are filling up with about 800L of fuel a day @ 70p/L so the fuel bill will be massive, however in a hour we can combine 35-40t of Wheat so in a ten hour day we will bring back to the shed about 400t of Wheat which is worth about £70,000. So the most important thing while the Wheat is dry is to keep the combine moving and in top working order. It gets a full grease, oil and check each morning by Nick and then he makes sure all yesterdays dust is removed as this can cause a fire if it builds up on the engine. Long day, long hours but a good time of year. Hope to see you all out and about over the weekend while the sunshine continues! BWB

Thursday, 16 August 2012

More than One Kind of Mole

We all hate moles in our nicely manicured lawn, lifting great mounds of earth up into mole hills and digging tunnels along the surface so they can move about under the cover of soil and darkness. They can be a pain but down on the farm, we have a very large and loud ‘mole’ that is currently ripping through the grass crop land that will shortly be cultivated and put into winter wheat.
It’s a mole drainer out doing its job. So what is a mole drainer? This is a special piece of equipment that is used on heavy land farms to help drainage. You have to have a certain type of soil to use it correctly and you also need the right soil conditions to benefit from it.  It is the deepest-working, pulled cultivator found on the farm and it takes the most amount of power to pull it. Remember the general rule: the deeper you move the soil, the more horsepower is required; well, this is a prime example.
It looks small but it does stick it's heels in to make it hard to pull
The implement is relatively small and is dwarfed by the large ‘New’ Caterpillar tractor boasting 320hp but the mole’s unique design and depth it makes it the hardest implement to pull in our clay soils. The machine has wheels to turn and move it on the road but in the working position, the wheels are not in contact with the ground so the whole machine slides on the surface. Mounted on the back is a blade which is a long, thick, very strong piece of metal that is held low, below the frame. At the end of the blade, you have a bullet which pulls a ceramic expander. Those are the correct terms but I describe them as a leg and foot pulling a ball and chain!
The idea is to create a mole: a round tunnel formed in the clay subsoil just above the field drains. The field drains are permanently placed pipes and gravel that remove water from the field, working with the slope. The temporary mole is formed just above these, so not to break or damage the pipes and they are formed at ninety degrees to them. Therefore, over all our fields we have a lattice work of pipes to allow the water free movement out of the topsoil, making our fields easier to work and better for the plants to grow in. 
The leg sets the depth and then the foot starts to move the tightly compacted clay ready for the clay to be pushed back by the hard ceramic expander that creates a smeared clay channel. This smeared clay channel then hopefully dries out to create a natural clay pipe. This is repeated every four metres over the whole field and they normally last about 6-7 years before they collapse or fill with sediment, so it is a on-going rotation around the fields with clay soils. The conditions are very favourable this year to make the moles as the wet spring (and summer) means the clay is very receptive to being formed into the mole, as deep down it is very moist. It also means that the blade does not wear away very quickly as the top soil is not baked solid. The pressure on the foot, expander and blade is huge. The friction is massive and you can see flakes of metal peeling off them and they become very hot. The ceramic expander can get so hot that if you hold it with your bare hand your skin will burn!
The foot and expander hang under the frame.
The new tractor has had its first run out and the noise it makes sends goose bumps up my neck, that really deep throaty roar of the exhaust belting out power! We are looking forward to working it hard this autumn but first we need to clear the harvest, which is proving challenging with these showers and thunderstorms. I hope I am not making a mountain out of a mole hill! But if the sun does not come out soon we will be in a right muddle with crops being spoilt and ruined wheat sitting ripe on ear!
Sun would be most welcome to help with harvest and bake the newly formed moles deep in my clay! BWB

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Make hay while the sun shines!

A full week of work in the herbage grass fields for everyone on the farm has just finished. The hot sunshine made it a very busy week with harvesting, hay making and a wildlife surprise!

The special fingers on our Stripper Header
We started harvesting the grass seed using our combine with its specialist header called a 'stripper' header. This is designed not to cut the plant stalks but to use specially designed fingers to lift the stalks and strip the seed off each stem as the header passes over it. It has revolutionised the grass seed harvest that used to be a struggle cutting the crops directly with a conventional header table. Now, with the new header, what took us 8 days with two smaller combines, takes just over 3 days with one! The seed is then taken quickly to the farm where it is put on a special floor that blows lots of air through it to reduce the temperature of it and dry out the remaining moisture. We level it out so that the crop dries evenly and we are not left with any wet spots or hot spots. The crop yielded really well but considering the wet spring it was a perfect year to grow grass as your lawn cutting regime will testify!

The side mounted mower
Once the combine gets started the hay making process begins. The grass stalks are mown with a disc mower; this is 2.8m wide and is mounted to one side of the tractor so you don't run the grass flat on the floor as you do it, making it difficult to cut low down. This is then spread out over the field by another machine called a 'tedder'. It has rotating sections which pick up the cut grass and throw it about. It is 7.7m wide, so we can cover a large area quickly. This teddering is done 2-3 times over a period of two or three days, allowing the heat of the sunshine and wind to dry all the moisture out of the hay. 

The Rake
Once the hay crop on the ground is dry, the decision to row it up and bale it is made. This involves another machine called a 'rake', which scrapes the hay up into a row by using a number of tined arms that pull the hay to one side against a partition. Once in rows it is ready to be baled. The baler picks up the row and compacts it inside a chamber within the machine that packs it tightly before two strands of string are looped around the whole cuboid and tied up by a mechanical knotter. 
The baler and sledge

The bales are then pushed out by the next bale being made and they fall out of the back onto a mechanical sledge pulled behind the baler, this arranges the bales into eights by a continuously moving belt floor that drags them quickly off the baler down different passages. This triggers levers to open other passages for the next bale. It lines them up in two rows of four and then the last lever triggered by the eighth bale releases the back gate and the eight bales drop out on to the floor. We put them into eights as they are much easier to handle in vast numbers. The two loaders on the farm have an attachment that picks up the eights by a set of claws that grab the bales and so we can pick up and load trailers with these eights or make stacks in the field. Most of the hay bales are sold to local horse owners and pet owners that feed it to their animals throughout the year. As the old saying goes, 'Make hay while the sun shines', as this is so important and the sun makes the whole process much easier and the quality of the final product really good for safe storage in lots of different stable blocks. If it is too damp the hay can start to warm and cook itself. This can ruin the quality and in really bad cases can actually catch fire if left undiscovered!  

All the different activities took place on the farm over the past week then, on Friday, the sun never came out and so hay making was stopped. This gave me a chance to go and check the other variety of grass we have left to combine. The grass is not ready to harvest but it is proving a great hunting ground for this Short Eared Owl that I finally caught up to with my camera! BWB

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Perils of a WET Harvest!

Well, it is the second half of July, normally a time of sun, heat hazes, cricket and the anticipation of the dust monster rolling out into the crops to start harvest; however, this year, it is more like rain, central heating on, ducks - and the anticipation of a mud monster once we get in the fields!
Harvest is such a great time of year, reaping the fruit of a full year’s work but the weather plays such an important part in a happy and smooth harvest. The sun is the key. Without this, the crops stand or lay wet in the fields, making it almost impossible for the combine to do its job of separating the seed from the stalk. We have to harvest the crops when they are dry, so that they store safely in the sheds on the farm. If they come in wet, then we have to spend money on drying them by burning diesel or LPG gas in giant hot air burners that heat up the grains on special floors. This is an extra expense that farmers don’t want - and our carbon footprint does not need! The sun is the best dryer; it is free and does it far quicker than we ever could, with the help of the gentle summer breezes.  If the crop is not dry then we have problems like mould and pest infestations as the heaps of grain warm up and the mountains of corn can be deemed totally useless for their intended market.

So, apart from wet grain and the headaches of keeping it in best conditions in store, what are the other perils of a wet harvest?

I have mentioned the problem of the grain sample quality going into the combine, being wet, but there are other problems associated with crops staying wet in the field before the combine gets to them. Mould on the ear and a build up of micro toxins in the grains are very real and unavoidable problems. This means that any grain destined for a feed market, both animal and human, will need to be tested for the levels of these micro toxins caused by mould growth. We cannot stop this toxin build-up; only the sun can.
Once the grain is dry enough to combine, we start having problems with this operation. The top of the plant and the grain dries quicker, so the stalk is damper as the moisture moves up out of the top soil. The combine driver has to keep checking all the settings of the combine, making sure good grain is not wasted and thrown out of the back, either still on the stalk or off the back of the sieves within the combine.  We also have to consider the straw left by the combine. If it is a wet year, most farmers will just chop the straw coming out of the combine, so instead of leaving it in a raised row to be baled for use in the livestock sector, it is smashed up and spread over the field like a carpet. This is then known as ‘trash’ on the field and that brings another problem in wet years as one of our main pests, the slug, loves to live in this wet mulch of ‘trash’, causing problems in establishment of next year’s crop later on in the autumn. Slugs have a population boom in these favourable conditions for their life cycle. The ’trash,’ if wet, also makes any early cultivation very hard, as it does not flow through the machinery very well and does not mix into the soil properly. This then alters our soil management for the preceding crop, making it more time consuming to prepare stale seed beds which is our main weapon against grass weeds.
Disposal of the stalks and stubble can be difficult

Soil management is not just ‘trash-’, pest- and weed- control. Wet soil is much more prone to structural damage. Rutting and compaction will be a serious problem this year, due to the wet soil on the surface. A combine tank holds 10t of grain, which, added to the 25t weight of the machine, means we have somewhere around 35t of weight driving over every field at a spacing of 9m! Our combine has huge tyres on it to try and spread the weight out over the surface, to reduce the chance of compaction, but it can be unavoidable. This is why some combines are now built with rubber caterpillar belts to create an even bigger footprint to spread out the weight.  The tractors and trailers will cause similar problems, pushing the soil down under their weight, especially when full of grain. This leaves deep structural problems under the surface, which, if it is not rectified by deep cultivation, will mean that the roots of the next year’s crop won’t break through this compacted layer of soil. The roots will then grow sideways and not down, making for weaker plants, as they fight for root moisture, nutrients and space throughout next year. This means expense to the farmer because, as a general rule of thumb, the deeper the cultivation the more horsepower required and the more money it costs to do it.
Some times waterlogged soil can give way totally! 

Mud on roads could also be an extra problem this harvest. Dragging mud onto the road is a danger to us and you the general public, so we have to prevent mud build-up off the fields. All our tractors will have a spade on them to scrape the worst of it off the road but still please be careful when driving during harvest, if the soil is wet. Please keep an eye out for mud and slow moving vehicles, we don’t do it on purpose and are only trying to do our job, so a bit of patience would be much appreciated.

Our own patience is another thing we have to consider. Hanging on to let the sun work is better sometimes than racing in and cutting too early, but this means that when it is fit to combine it will be ‘all hands to the pump’. Long hours on the seat can mean tired minds and body. Stress of harvest is guaranteed in the best of years but even more in wet ones.  Weather watching and forecast predicting becomes a full time science and this also makes farmers first class moaners when the weather doesn’t do what it was predicted to do.
Farmers are renowned for moaning about the weather and the price of the crops; however, this is one thing that a wet harvest does help with! On the back of wet weather here, droughts in Australia, floods in Russia, frosts in Canada earlier this year and now the USA being hit with climate problems too, it has driven prices up and commodity investors see a possible short fall in supply. Our final load of wheat left from last year was sold at an all-time farm record of £208/t. David has only seen wheat prices hit over £200, 5 times in his life - all in the past 7 years. World food demand is huge as our world population spirals out of control. Unfortunately, this will be passed to the consumers as higher food prices and we will be hit by crop input rises, as manufacturers jump on the back of these prices.

Sadly, soon your breakfast cereal will be too expensive to buy - but your milk will be cheaper than what it costs to produce, as the supermarkets have hit the UK dairy industry with another 2p/pint cut, but that is another story that will - and has - pushed my grumpy stress levels through the roof!
Fingers crossed for the Gulf Stream to move north and fill our skies with high pressure and sunshine to make it a slightly easier harvest. It is going to be difficult but we can only do what we can, when the conditions are right. Make sure you give us a wave or a toot while we are in the fields to make certain we are awake!      BWB

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Crop Sprayer

This year has been a tricky mix of disease and weeds. The high pressure has meant that the use of pesticides has been unavoidable to maintain potentially high yields into harvest.
Protected operator adding high concentration
chemical to the water in tank.
The machine that is used to apply these expensive products is called a crop sprayer (pictured). It is a very detailed piece of machinery that accurately applies the right amount of chemical to the target part of the plant towards which the operator is aiming. Ours is a self propelled sprayer so has its own engine to move it, but you can get different ones that are pulled or mounted on the back of tractors depending on your needs, crops grown and your budget!

The design in theory is very simple. Firstly, a large water tank in the middle that the chemical is added to via an induction bowl at the back. This tank has a pump that circulates the fluid to make a consistent solution. The sprayer has a set of folding booms: ours are 24m wide but some new models have booms of 36m or more. Along the booms, run pipes from the tank that have outlets regularly spaced along them. These outlets have specialist controls and nozzles which do a particular job in releasing the fluid, under the control of the operator on the seat.
The 24m booms open out horizontally for safety so power
lines are not touched by them.
The operator can open the outlets as he drives along, we have 7 sections on our boom so we can shut or open 3.5m at a time. This reduces any over-lapping or under-dosing of the crop. The operator has a computer on board which measures pressure, forward speed, tank level, area covered etc. The computer adjusts the water flow out of the nozzles to make sure that the application of the chemical and water mix is constant over the whole area. We normally apply between 100 and 200 litres of water, mixed with chemical, to each hectare of the individual crops. The chemicals used in the cans are of very high concentration, therefore the operator needs to be trained and protected when handling them out of the special secure store on the farm. Once they are added to the 3000L of water in the tank they become diluted to the desired concentration as determined by the chemical company to do the best job of controlling the weed, pest or disease.

Each chemical that makes it to general sale on farms has had millions of pounds and years of detailed research done on it to make sure it is safe to be used on crops, around humans and has no adverse effect on the environment.  The chemicals under most people’s kitchen sinks are of higher concentrations and more dangerous to the environment than anything we store on the farm - and we have to be trained to use ours!

The sprayer must be maintained to high standards and is the only piece of farm machinery that needs to be tested each year by law. It has an MOT for road worthiness and application of chemicals each year; if it fails, it cannot be used on the farm until it is re-inspected following repairs.

The sprayer applies the chemical solution by producing a line of water droplets out of the nozzles that hit the plant or soil, the nozzles are designed to produce different size droplets of solution so that the farmer gets best use of the chemical. The problem is, that the small droplets can get blown by wind. This is call spray drift and is a problem to the industry. As farms become bigger and labour becomes less on farms, operators are increasingly asked to spray larger areas and they physically cannot cover the areas needed, so they start to compromise on what weather conditions in which they can spray, to make sure they cover all the crops. This means that incidents of drift have become a real problem, so the chemical manufactures have invested in new technology to help reduce drift. The nozzles used to be fairly simple and as the solution was forced through it, it would produce a flat fan of droplets going straight down into the crop. These were ok but the droplet sizes were small and irregular, so the smaller ones drifted off. Now, on our sprayer, we have special nozzles called air induction or bubble jets. These nozzles, at point of release, fill each droplet with air to create a larger heavier droplet. This reduces drift by being heavier but, on impact with the crop, the bubble pops and the chemical solution sprays out to cover the target area of the plant. So one large droplet becomes lots of smaller ones on impact in the safety of the crop canopy and not on anyone’s prize winning roses in a neighbouring garden!
Our Sprayer has three different Nozzles that can be chosen
depending on the target droplet required.
With every application of a chemical, a full traceability record is kept on the farm. Each field has a full record of what has been applied and when. This is done by a work sheet being produced by the farmer and his crop doctor advisor who guides him on how to keep the crops clean of unwanted weeds, pests and disease. The work sheet is then given to the operator who picks the best weather conditions to go and apply the right chemical to the right field. On completion of the job, the operator fills in the date, time, soil conditions; weather conditions; temperature and area covered for the job and then signs it, so that if any problems occur we can trace back a problem to an operation. On the farm we also have a weather station that takes and records all weather conditions on the farm, this helps the operator to predict the current and short term weather as well as backing up the climate conditions of each day, to help with any traceability of problems that could have been caused chemical drift.  Drift is something we and all farmers take very seriously, as it can not only cause damage to sensitive habitats but it is also our pound coins drifting off out of the field which is the target area for which it was bought.  In the last 12 months, we have bought over £100,000 pounds worth of chemicals that have all been applied by the crop sprayer.  It’s an expensive bill and that is why we want to apply it in the optimum conditions by a well maintained, highly advanced machine and secondly we need to keep it in the field where it benefits us and our business. 

The crop sprayer is an important and well used machine on our farm and all farms but chemical control of pests, weeds and disease is not sustainable and that is why it needs to be viewed as the last resort. Cultural controls like different cultivations to kill weeds, crop rotations and choice of which varieties of crop to grow, all play their part in reducing that expensive bill. This year has been a difficult one but who knows what climate change has in store for us next year and beyond!  One thing is for sure, crop sprayers play a massive part in making sure we all are fed each day.        BWB

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Giant Bird Tables

Every spring areas of our farm is sown with a seed mix totally devoted to farmland birds. These area Patrick and myself call giant bird tables, they do what the name suggests produce huge amounts of seed throughout the hungry gap in winter when natural seed sources in the hedgerows and around the fields have been exhausted. We sow a mix of seed in plots of about 2-3 football pitches located close to natural habitats like hedgerows and woods to give the farmland birds some protection while they forage for the seed. This short video is of Richard Barnes from King Conservation Seed Company explaining the different plants that get sown in the mixes.


We think that these mixes are and will deliver huge amounts of seed for the birds and help to reverse the decline in populations we have seen in Farmland birds since the 1970's as explained in this film.



Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Tricky Spring Clean!

As we moved into spring we were busy tidying the yard up for our LEAF Launch; sweeping the concrete, cutting the grass, filling pot holes, clearing scrap metal that had built up through the winter and generally trying to make the yard spotless! I do like a tidy yard, tidy yard and desk means a tidy mind and things don’t get forgotten and overlooked. We try and keep on top of the clutter, as we get busy and then on into harvest things become manic but hopefully we remember to put back tools where they live so in the times of emergencies you can lay your hands on everything in a hurry.
We have kept on top of the yard but my attention has been turned to keeping our crops clean! The weather has dramatically changed from one that was relatively low in disease pressure: dry and cool, to disease pressure that is now off the scale.
Disease on the green leaf
All crops suffer throughout the year from attacks from pests, weeds and diseases and farmers combat them throughout the year with the use of cultural controls as well as the agrichemical options. The use of pesticides is always the last resort and they need favourable conditions to work. For instance, herbicides usually need moisture in the soil to activate and this year the seed beds were so dry the activation was very short so we have been swamped with black grass across the country, as the flushes of weeds like this invasive grass kept on germinating through the mild winter. The same happened with aphids in the winter. Being so mild, the aphids transmitted a plat virus that has caused stunning of plants and this has not been seen for years on this scale. Then we come to the disease pressure! I have never - and even the older generations can not remember a year like it. Septoria and Rust have been a huge problem; these two diseases are fungi that attack the plant throughout the growth in the spring. If the crop is left untreated, the fungus spreads up the plant and from plant to plant by air movement as well as rain splashes carrying spores. What we have had this year: high winds and lots of heavy rain droplets, topped with dramatic temperature changes from cool nights to blistering hot sunshine; has led to a running battle to keep the plants clean of disease.
I use the term clean because, if you don’t keep the disease out, the crops turn yellow and brown very quickly and the plant looks dirty with fungus spores. The aim for us is to maintain green leaf for as long as possible. Green leaf is the Holy Grail, especially this year, for, not only is it a great year for fungus growth it is also a great year for crop growth and the yield potential is out there. 
Fungicide Treated
The winter wheat crop has just come to a critical growth period called grain fill. The ear is out and the individual grains have started to form and swell as the water is moved up through the roots from the soil, into the cells of the plant to form each grain. The sun beams down on the crop and photosynthesis gives the plant the energy it needs to maximise all the grain - that hopefully in the end we catch as we combine the crop after it has died naturally and dried out.  The ear and the last leaf to be exposed (known as the flag leaf)contribute to 65% of the yield that we harvest later on, this is why it is paramount to keep the fungicide cover up to prevent the diseases taking a hold of the plant and killing off the green cells. In a normal year, we cover the new leaves 4 times with chemicals that cure and prevent fungus growth. However, this year we have already done 5 and may have to do another! This becomes expensive for us and hopefully we get rewarded with the yields that the crops look to have the potential of giving, come harvest. If we did not spray for the disease so much our crops would be yellow and dead in the field. This is a picture of one of the field edges where the spray never quite reached and you can see there is not much green leaf left compared to the middle of the field.
No Fungicide Treatment

We just hope that this wet and humid weather subsides and the sun arrives for summer and we can fill the barns with nice large swollen grains and our high fungicide bills can be paid off! Time will tell……BWB  

Monday, 25 June 2012

Bridging the gap

One thing we try and do on the farm is bridge the gap between us the farmer and you the general public. This is done by a number of ways either with evening talks to local clubs, farm tours that we have been busy doing in the last couple of months, helping at other larger events such as the Suffolk Schools Farm Fair, Open Farm Sunday (organised through LEAF) and LEAF Technical days which we are heading off to later. All these events are done by invitation and getting people of the farm directly to have a one on one interaction with a farmer. Those who have not been to one of these events can organise their local clubs to have an evening talk or Spring Farm Tour by booking directly with us or through LEAF.

We moved into the modern age and bridge the gap with this Blog, set up so that we could try and keep everyone reading it informed about little things that we find and do through out the year. However we do apologies for the posting as of late, life is busy down on the farm and around the farming community so posting as been infrequent. Sorry for that, note to self, must try harder!

Our latest interactions on the farm for visitors have been installed around the farm, with a large amount of footpaths and bridleways on the farm that are always walked and enjoyed by many. We thought this was an area we could try and feed a little bit on info out and about. So last week our new LEAF information boards have been put up to hopefully give the walkers, horse riders and cyclists a snippet of information as they wander designated routes. They have interesting facts about farmland habitats, species and farming operations with the odd diagram so you can put a machine to the operation.

I hope you find them interesting to read and look forward to seeing on or around the farm, hopefully on the footpaths! BWB

Friday, 15 June 2012

Stop the mower and things appear!

We have pulled back the old school idea that a tidy mown grass drive makes for a welcoming sight on to the farm.
Patrick was really keen to stop the mower from cutting the long drive at Lodge Farm and let the wild flowers establish and use this as a statement of our new wildlife minded approach. In the last couple of years we have seen Black Knapweed and Ox-eyed Daisy's numbers increase no end adding to the Cowslips and Clover which was there but struggling to survive on the drive.

On Wednesday on his walk back to work Patrick discovered something that we had never seen on the farm and this is all due to the change in mentality allowing flowers to actually flower!...........

Our first Bee Orchid to add to the list of Pyramid Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid which we knew we had already.

A nice surprise. BWB

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

True Great British Spirit

Last week was a very strange week for me. It started off with a double bank holiday for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, 3 BBQ's, 2 Cake days and a lot of Pimms or Calvors Lager consumed. Having just moved house, I attended my old village’s party in the village hall. Then the following day I was helping a couple of young residents in my new village to decorate crowns for a crown competition and went to that Jubilee party on the lawn. The weather didn’t dampen the true Great British spirit at either venue, with everyone dressed up in red, white and blue rain coats and rugs.

The only day of work on the farm was Wednesday! We are doing some much needed building repair to one of the old pig sheds and so we were quickly trying to get the new roof sheets on the old steel frame before the rain and wind got too much and the Health and Safety alarm bell in my head started ringing. We managed to get them all done and installed, with plenty of time to spare and the rest of the painting and walling will follow on smoothly this week now.

Thursday was the start of the County show season for us. The much anticipated and looked forward to Suffolk Show started on a chilly damp Thursday but the smiles of the occasion brought out the sun at times in the morning. All our family are involved in the planning of the show beforehand and during the two days. 
The Suffolk show is a great event where people far and wide come to see the best of the best that Suffolk has to offer: horses, sheep, pigs, cattle, machinery, art, crafts, clothes, cars. The list is endless and it is a great time to catch up with friends, make new ones and network with other businesses. The numbers coming through the gate were slightly down due, I think, to everyone being Jubilee’d out – and the weather! But the hardy souls that did come had a great show to look around.

I was given a very important job on Thursday. Having rescheduled my stewarding rota, I had to leave the Showground to pick up a VIP from the railway station. This was something I was looking forward to but was concerned because to get back in the Showground at 10am in the past has been very tricky due to all the extra traffic going to the site. I picked up the sponsor’s car and sat in it to find it was an automatic It then took a couple of minutes to find the automatic handbrake and how to get the car moving! I managed it and arrived in good time to await the arrival of the VIP!

The London Train was on time and my guest, the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman MP was on board.  The Minister had been invited by the Suffolk Agricultural Association’s new President, Lord Deben, and it was her first time in attending the Suffolk Show. She had heard great things about the event and how it had retained its Agricultural background. We drove from the station and I had the opportunity to talk about the show, myself, our farm and LEAF. We managed to get back into the Show within 25 minutes and I left her to be taken round by a show organiser. She was thrilled to see the Suffolk Punches being shown in the ring as we pulled up amongst the crowd.  I do hope she enjoyed her invitation and day at the show.

The rest of Thursday went well but the weather started to deteriorate and this caused a few unexpected headaches for me as a steward and for the show organisers, but the Show must go on – or so we thought!
Friday was a different story altogether! High winds and driving rain made for a very uneasy drive to the second day at the showground. The normal pre day prep on the exhibitors’ stands was starting as we arrived at 6.30am. Patrick and I caught an early breakfast and rumours were already starting to circulate about the possibility of shutting the event down! In 181years of the Show this had never been done. To shut the show in the middle would be only done if there was a major incident or it was unsafe for people to be on site. It would take a massive call from the show committee and group of Senior Stewards but it would only be done for the right reasons.

Sure enough, that call had to be made and the gates shut at 8.15am. It was then all hands to the pump making sure everyone was told and anything not tied down was needed to be pulled down and removed as the wind picked up. The Show Committee, Showground maintenance team and all the voluntary Stewards did a tremendous job in the face of adversity. Some Exhibitors and General Public were a bit miffed by the decision but when one of the largest temporary structures on the showground: the food hall marquee, lifted up and moved, it put the day into perspective.  By midday many store holders had got their tents and gazebos down but those who hadn’t watched as one by one the wind lifted them up and rolled them over the ground or onto other stands. It was a scary place to be with 90mph gusts of wind, flying marquees and whipping ropes & tent flaps and this is why they evacuated the whole ground at 1.30pm.

It was a very sad day for all involved. Stewards and organisers described it as if they had been bereaved and were in a state of shock. Luckily no one was hurt or died and the show will be back next year bigger and stronger and possibly with a few more guy ropes on the marquees!

Our next show is Cereals, the biggest farming event of the year, followed by the Norfolk show, so fingers crossed for these events. Other than this, the farm is ticking along with the crops looking windswept but well. Sunshine is much needed from now until harvest and beyond, so, in the words of my mother when I was a little boy….’Smiles bring sunshine,’ - please get smiling and do your best for us!                                 BWB