28 December 2001

A year best forgotten…

THE past year was not a vintage one. I think most people in farming would agree that 2001 was a year best put behind us. Unlike a good port it was not one to savour for the future.

Looking back through my desk diary at the highs and lows, January was noteworthy for being the first time we had left sugar beet in the ground. Having made the decision to do so before Christmas, we booked contractor Nigel Harrison for a date to be determined at the end of the month. Haulage contractor Mountains of Sleaford eventually moved the last load into the Newark factory on Jan 27.

With below average rainfall and dry frosty weather, we were able to catch up with the drilling of 20ha (49 acres) of wheat following the sugar beet.

February is often known as the "fill-dyke" month but our local meteorological office would dispute that saying that for our region it is often the driest month of the year. February 2001s 66.8mm (2.7in) of rain was therefore remarkable being nearly twice the 40 year average which left all the ploughed land for spring cropping extremely wet and cold.

Then there was the Feb 20 when MAFF confirmed officially the existence of foot-and-mouth disease at Cheale Meats abattoir in Essex.

As bacon producers we were more fortunate than most in that we had supplied 130% of our contract the day before and, when all animal movements were stopped three days later, we were able to hold on to our finished pigs until permission came through to resume supplies on Mar 6, albeit under strict licensing regulations.

Our biosecurity increased to the point friends thought we were under siege but we acted quickly and effectively to ban all deliveries and visitors except for animal feed in, and slaughter pigs out.

The only land work carried out was a first nitrogen application to oilseed rape and muriate of potash applied on the furrow for peas.

March was another wet month with 80% more rain than the long-term average although distributed evenly throughout the month. Small windows of opportunity did permit some spraying and a second application of urea to oilseed rape and the first on cereals. But still no seedbed preparations.

The rain kept falling in April too with 63% more than the long-term mean. But eventually we managed to start drilling peas on Apr 19 and sugar beet on Apr 21. But more rain prevented the completion of this operation until the end of the month.

May produced another wetter than average month with 31.6mm (1.26in) falling on May 14. But the weather improved from May 18 onwards, allowing spraying and top dressing to carry on unimpeded.

After all the previous wet months June was relatively dry although a thunderstorm on Jun 16 produced 15.6mm (0.62in) of rain in one hour.

By good luck or judgement, we had not mown our SSSI paddocks for hay until Jun 19 which within a week had made some excellent fodder.

Since our decision to discontinue growing perennial ryegrass for seed the start of harvest was a more relaxed affair this year. We finished loading wheat out of store on Jul 5 and set to with brush and vacuum to prepare the barn for contract spraying.

Normally the turn round would have been fairly swift since the grass seed would have been shovelled on to drying ducts in the main floor area which in turn has to be cleared in time for wheat harvest.

Any hope of an early start to harvest was soon dispelled by a deluge of 48.5mm (1.94in) of rain on Jul 17. It was in fact seven days later that we started combining our Pearl winter barley. This was followed by oilseed rape at the end of July and early results were looking good. Barley had yielded just short of 9t/ha (3.64t/acre) and oilseed rape at 4.3t/ha (1.74t/acre). We cant confirm the final barley result because sales are not complete, but the rapeseed was moved off-farm soon after drying down and was our second best yield ever.

From here it was all downhill, 21.27ha (52.53 acres) of peas took us five days to harvest and although the yield is still an estimate, it was down on the previous year by 30% to 3.2t/ha (1.3t/acre).

Wheat harvest started on Aug 17 and continued until Aug 28 with some mixed results. The average yield is estimated at 7.96t/ha (3.2t/acre), down 12% on 2000. However, Hagbergs tested over 300, proteins over 13% and 65% of the Malacca had a bushel weight reading over 76kg/hl. The rest had screenings of 5% and bushel weights around 74kg/hl although the Abbot fell as low as 70kg/hl. Unfortunately, with the exception of Clare, we sold nothing forward, which may prove to be a mistake. The Clare was sold at harvest for feed at £75/t.

Thank goodness for a kinder autumn this year. Both oilseed rape and wheat have got off to a good start with just the barley struggling after drilling in poor seedbeds behind the plough and getting a hammering from herbicide damage in October.

Sugar beet lifted well and 75% of the land has drilled up behind leaving the remainder for attention in January next year.

So much for 2001. At least we have 2002 to look forward to and lets hope it may bring some better news.

Meanwhile from myself and all my colleagues at Easton Lodge a happy New Year to you all. &#42

All but 4ha (9.9 acres) of our sugar beet area has been lifted and drilled within 24 hours with winter wheat. Low ground pressure tyres on contractor Nigel Harrisons Agrifac six-row harvester and the fact that the rear wheels are set to track inside the front wheels, has helped to keep structural damage to a minimum.