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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.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What is that noise?

Well it has not been a nice week to be a dog owner! Flo my dog on two occasions found something to roll in which smelt very, very bad (we definitely have foxes as we have fox poo!) and we also had the unusual scenario nowadays of walking in driving rain!
The lack of water in our soil was hitting a crisis point and we are officially in a drought! Back in September when we were cleaning out a pond, we dug to 15ft and we found that the clay was bone dry down there and it just crumbled in your hand! What is ahead of us? Well, hose pipe bans will be enforced and industrial abstraction from rivers and bore holes will be under even tighter control. This is something that we as farmers have to consider, and all gardeners. Water butt sales have rocketed at our local DIY shop and everyone is preparing for another dry spring and summer. I’m a bit concerned as nature has a way of levelling itself out and being about a foot of rainfall short over the past two years, we think it may all come in a hurry!
Skylarks are singing
However, the rain in the last week has dampened the topsoil and it has slowly worked its way through the soil profile, hopefully to be held in our clay subsoil to benefit us if we do get a dry spring. On one of my dog walks, I heard an unusual noise amongst the chorus of Skylarks and other farmland birds. A noise I had not heard for a while - actually over a year I reckon. One of our land drains was running full bore and it was flowing into a wet ditch! The sound of running water is a common sound in the average year but the last two have been far from average. All our fields have been drained to allow the rainwater to escape out of our clay-based topsoil so that the plants growing do not stand in waterlogged soil, creating an anaerobic soil condition that plants do not like - unless it is rice in a paddy field! Our fields all have clay or plastic pipes set deep in the profile that use natural falls of the ground to run the water to the nearest ditch. The ditch is then used as the transport and storage system to move this water down the river system and out to sea. It is important to maintain the ditches by cleaning them out on a regular basis, as you don’t want your drain outlets to be standing underwater, for this defeats the object of the drain, because water then backs up in the soil. Wet spots in the field give us the heads up if there is a problem with the drains and we then consult the correct drainage map showing the underground pipes so that we can identify the blocked drain or buried outlet pipe. In the winter, John does a great job at cleaning the ditches; scraping the side of the ditch to prevent slumping and removing the silt built up by water movement and leaf litter. The spoil is left to dry out on the ditch top and then it will be spread out in the field and so farmed in the next year.
Ditches are important wildlife habitats with their grass sides and wet bottoms but like everything we do, farming must come first as this brings in the money. Any environmental work has to be balanced against this, so we only carry out work like ditch clearing when the minimal stress on the wildlife will be caused.  It is detrimental in the short term to the habitat, so normally, with wildlife management, it is little and often but ditches are usually all done then left until maintenance is required again. This could be 5-10 years depending on the amount of water that flows through.
Essential Ditch management
Other water management we undertake on the farm is rain harvesting, we have been collecting rain water off one of our buildings to supplement the spray water for a few years, but in the next year we will be installing 4 giant water butts, so that all our water for the sprays applied to the crops will come from the heavens and not the mains!
But having said all this, one thing we do need to make all this work worthwhile and allow us to grow our crops healthy and strong is rain! We are short, and fresh water is a resource we really need to start conserving on the farm. Our ponds are low; the Great Crested Newts will be coming out of hibernation to find dry or shrunken ponds which will affect their breeding. Please do not be tempted to fill your garden pond with mains water. This is not a good idea for natural wildlife, due to the levels of unusual elements in the mains water after it has been cleaned. We will just have to wait for the levels to rise and the ponds to fill up on their own. Prayers and rain dances may be required but only if you make sure it stays dry while we are ready to harvest our crops come July, August and September!
I’m glad that we do have one full pond in the yard still, as it came in handy when I needed to make Flo swim after she came back smelling so bad!     BWB


Monday, 5 March 2012

Wild on Wednesdays



Last week was my turn to contribute to Lesley Dolphin's afternoon show on BBC Radio Suffolk. To hear the piece go to 1hr 55.



http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00p3jr4/Lesley_Dolphin_29_02_2012/

Lots of topics covered this week from the Suffolk Agricultural Association conference to lambing, ponds, hedge cutting, young people in agriculture and Buzzards.