The arrival of Michaelmas always tells me it’s time to sit down and do some paperwork.
Being the world’s best procrastinator, I always try to find something else to do (Granny Flindt calls it “polishing the tennis shoes”), but as October drifts by, I know I really must sit down and finalise some facts and figures, so that the accountant has time to go through the books, wet himself laughing and get the accounts out before Christmas.
So I sat down the other day, cleared the table of 50th birthday cards and, for the 20th time, set to the task of compiling the crop costings. And they mostly made a pleasant change. My little patch of Hampshire clay-over-chalk surprised us with what it gave back this year. The oilseed rape was astonishing, the heavy land spring barley was amazing (but not the light land), the wheats were good, the winter beans were pleasing, and the winter barley at least gave lots of straw.
And then there were the spring beans. In an ever-changing world, spring beans, it seems, will always disappoint. There are varying levels of disappointment, of course. There’s the “I was hoping for more than that” level, there’s the “It must have been hit hard on the drought” level, and then there was this year’s sheer embarrassment.
My neighbour had come over to help finish harvest with his thermonuclear-powered 50ft cut combine, but for most of two days he and brother-in-law Noel, driving my combine, did 20 paces forward before having to reverse 10 paces and climb out and unwrap the bindweed from the front auger. There was an unofficial competition to see who could leave the largest lump of it in the middle of the field.
Philip, on trailer cart, wasn’t terribly busy, though, unless reading back issues of Farmers Weekly found under the tractor seat counts as busy.
In the end, the 80-acres probably filled one artic. “Well, I’m sure, after all that insecticide, they’ll go for human consumption”. Not a chance. Still, asking gave Hampshire Grain a giggle.
But I still like spring beans. Yes, the herbicide is pricey and failed completely in this year’s drought. But no nitrogen is needed. They fit nicely in the rotation as far as field operations are concerned. Look at the alternatives, too. Spring rape seems as temperamental as beans, and I seem to remember that weed control is a three-men-in-the-field job. Linseed seems to kill combines. We’ve done some cracking pea crops in the past, especially on the light land (which the beans hate) and I remember the cattle going crazy for the baled haulm. But combining them clashes with wheat, and I remember finishing the headland of one huge patch at full speed and then watching horrified as a hailstorm flattened the rest. We were in there for another week trying to get them off the floor. Mind you, they don’t half make a cracking seed bed for the next wheat.
Then again, so do those spring beans. One pass with the aged 10ft Vibraflex, retrieved from the hedge for what must be its 30th season, and all but the heaviest land is ready for the power harrow/drill combo. Perhaps I’ll stick with them, work on my excuses for their dismal yield, and concentrate instead on enjoying the cracking following wheat. Or I might grow peas. Or not. Where are my tennis shoes?
• Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.