Farming Report – Spring 2017

February “fill dyke”is certainly living up to its name and our much needed winter rain is replenishing reservoirs and raising the water table to carry us through next summer. Crops are still looking well and, apart from a small amount of pigeon grazing on the oilseed rape and our usual problem with brent geese, there is not too much to worry about at the moment.

We have been lucky in this area with good autumn establishment of crops, but in East Anglia 175,000 acres of rape was wiped out with drought and attack from cabbage stem flea beetle. In parts of Essex and Kent up to 80% of Wheat was resown due to poor germination.

They say what goes round comes round, and that is true, with the latest trend of growing a fast growing crop of mustard or turnips after harvest to be ploughed in before the next crop to provide “green” manure. This was common practice at one time but the swing to autumn planting due to unpredictable springs meant there just wasn’t enough time to establish a crop. Interestingly there is a change back to more spring planting for different reasons. Firstly in some areas grass weeds are becoming resistant to chemical control in the autumn and secondly it is a question of economics.Spring sown corn is cheaper to grow, although it doesn’t yield so well you don’t have to buy your seed, fertiliser and sprays so early and it spreads the autumn work load.Wheat is an expensive crop to grow and in 2015 about 90% of farmers lost money when there was a big global harvest and the price of wheat fell. In that year the average cost of production was £143 per tonne and the average sale was £114 per tonne.

We have a dilemma, our oldest tractor needs to be changed as it has a lot of hours on the clock, its tyres are worn out and generally its technology is getting outdated. We have tried a new model of the same horsepower but, with the modern build and all the latest gadgets, it weighs about one and a half tonnes more . The new low emission engine just does not have the same grunt and pulls the plough about 20% slower. If we go for the next model in the range we go up another one and half tonnes in weight which will cause even more damage to the land and it also costs £20,000 more!

Yesterday MP`s voted to trigger the article 50 exit clause, I am still concerned how this is going to pan out. 72% of all agricultural exports go to Europe, including £290 million worth of lamb and 78% of all Wheat and Barley exports. If they chose to impose an import tax would we still be competitive and if we had to look further for new markets would their economies be able to afford our prices. The food and farming sector is worth £108 billion, that is more than motor cars and aerospace combined.

The dutch are very productive and farm to a very high standard but they have so many cows that the waste they produce is becoming a problem. In order to save their muck spreading derogation from the EU they are planning to cull 175,000 cows. It is a crazy world when we are so obsessed with CO2 emissions, when I studied biology at school many years ago we were told that CO2 was vital for plant food.

A farmer was recently fined £30,000  when a rambler was killed by one of his cows. They can be as dangerous as a bull if they have recently calved and are protecting their offspring or, if someone has a dog on a lead, they may well go for the dog. A farm can be a dangerous place and I lost a good friend a few years ago when he was attacked by his own bull.

A national disaster has arisen! Due to such unseasonal weather in Spain there is a shortage of courgettes and iceberg lettuce. Jeremy Vine spent much of his show this week hearing from listeners who were wondering how they would be able to manage and saying they had been complaining to the supermarkets. What is wrong with these people have they never tried seasonal vegetables ?

We have always had a problem with our electrical supply, we must be one of the few farms in the area that is still single phase, I guess it`s because we are the end of a line and have never had our own grain dryer. When the electrician came to wire up our new shed there just wasn`t enough power so now we are looking at the possibility of upgrading to three phase. At the moment SSE are carrying out a survey to see where they can pick up the supply and how much it is going to cost, I am dreading to think how much that will be.

At this time of year we are busy servicing and repairing our kit ready for the spring work, the sprayer has had its MOT and the fertiliser spreader has been checked and calibrated. In about a month, as soon as the ground has dried sufficiently, we will be back on the land applying fertiliser to encourage new growth and soon after that we will consider sowing the spring crops.

I belong to a small group of farming friends who meet socially once a month. We have been doing this for 35yrs, it started as a study group and we would have talks and visits home and abroad to improve our farming knowledge, but now it`s more of a get together and boys night out. At our last meeting somebody produced a photograph taken on one of our visits in 1985, most of us had full heads of hair and flat stomachs and we looked liked our children do now. Happy days !

Richard Strange.