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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.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

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

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