THE WIND has dropped, the land is drying and, with no rain forecast, we have begun to run down the tramlines with potash and phosphate in accordance with our SOYL variable rate fertiliser recommendations.

We have had these on the computer for some time and would have preferred to spread the basal fertiliser immediately after harvest for working into the seed-beds, but time and conditions would not permit.

Allowances have been made for the pig slurry and farmyard manure spread on the stubbles before oilseed rape, peas and sugar beet in the Easton Lodge rotation. The tonnage of triple super phosphate at 16t, muriate of potash at 8t, and kieserite at 2t look fairly modest on 201ha (496 acres) of cropped land.

Compare that to the 142ha (350 acres) at Sacrewell Lodge, where the tonnage of TSP is 15t, MOP 16t and kieserite 1t, and perhaps animal manures have value after all. Certainly, the improved fertility at Easton Lodge since the arrival of the pig unit in 1968 has been proven over the years, namely in crop performance, humus levels and the improvement in the moisture retentive capacity of our thin limestone soils.

Graham Johnson, our farm management trainee, who is currently applying the fertiliser, leaves today to join The Arable Group in Lincs as an arable consultant. Graham came to us in October 2003 and has fitted in well into a position created when we extended our arable operation in 2002 to take on Sacrewell Lodge.

Having advertised the position in farmers weekly before Christmas, we had an excellent response with 24 applicants sending in their details. These were reduced to a shortlist of six and interviewed last month, presenting us with a difficult choice.

All candidates were capable of doing the job, some with more previous practical experience and others with more academic qualifications, but overall the standard was extremely high.

We offered the post to Stuart Entwistle, who having grown up in Northants, took a national diploma in agriculture at Moulton College as well as gaining experience in arable and livestock farming on different holdings. His last post working for Letchworth Garden City Farms provided him with good practical experience in large-scale combinable crops.

Workload permitting, Stuart should be with us in early March and will be contracted for two years, during which time he will be able to study for BASIS and FACTS courses.

It is with relief that despite the doom and gloom that would appear to prevail over the industry, there are still young men and women who want to commit themselves to agriculture.

The industry is a steep learning curve of practical and academic skills which take time and effort to achieve, during which the hours are long and the pay but adequate. Full farm management opportunities are unlikely to come much before the age of 30 for even the most ambitious of entrants, so that vocation, dedication and commitment to a way of life are essential.

This is the time of year for conferences, meetings and further education. Farm foreman David Cham has gathered up some National Register of Sprayer Operator points recently. Think Water, organised by Jacqui Griffin of the Rutland Training Group, focussed on protecting the quality of water and discussed the way pesticides get into water, the prevention of water pollution in relation to pesticides and practical exercises looking at the choice of filling sites for sprayers, container handling and filling procedures.

Another meeting organised by Syngenta Crop Protection on Managing Environmental Habitats and touching on the new Entry Level Scheme, proved most interesting.

Full marks to area manager Gareth Debenham for squeezing in a dynamic presentation promoting Bravo 500 versus chlorothalonil. The test performed by painting on neat chemical to a sheet of Perspex, of both genuine and spurious origins, was allowed to dry and then sprayed off with water. The patter convinced most that you get what you pay for.

Further delights in store are an NFU meeting on farm waste, an entry level stewardship training course organised by FWAG and the Rutland Training Group and an explanation of the single farm payment scheme by DEFRA.

Accountability and CAP reform between them mean that my moleskins are likely to be welded to one seat or another for some time to come.