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Andrew Kerr

19 July 2002

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

FOR me, harvest has lost the gloss of yesteryear. Once eagerly awaited now it seems no more exciting than mowing the lawn, just more expensive.

According to the show going fraternity I cannot be the only person working for nothing. Attendance at most of the summer shows, bar Cereals, is reputedly well down in spite of the lack of events last year. That is a shame because most offer technical help of just the sort needed to help us survive the next few years. Even if the shiny new kit is financially out of reach the good ideas demonstrated can often be adapted and applied using a clapped-out piece of junk pulled from the nettles at home.

I was intrigued to discover Oliver Walstons website the other day. The farm diary section dates back to 1974 and is particularly interesting reading, a poignant reminder of farmings fluctuations in recent times. You can access it at www.thriplow-farms.co.uk

At home we have been busy preparing for the now annual dose of assurance protocol inspections. Apart from the fact that I could do without the hassle at harvest time, I have yet to find a farmer who is genuinely better off as a result of this costly compliance. As usual, we Brits play by the rulebook while everyone else shows a crooked bat. As one friend puts it: "There are lies, damned lies and my crop assurance records". I gather there are plans afoot to make the system even more onerous in future – more jobs for the boys!

Potatoes have received regular doses of blight fungicides and slug pellets. A bonus of the wet weather is reduced use of our ageing "irritators" and associated agro of bursts and breakdowns, which invariably happen at night or weekends.

Finally, the RSPB says skylark populations can be boosted by leaving extra gaps in crops where birds may safely lay their eggs. Looking back at some past tram-lining attempts I have unwittingly been eco-friendly for years. &#42

Ready for the off: desiccated Shannon oilseed rape will be ready very soon, weather permitting, says Andrew Kerr from Essex.

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Andrew Kerr

21 June 2002

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

THIS report comes to you from the sunny climes of Majorca. My dream was to embark upon an exhaustive study of the islands agricultural potential with the cuisine and local wine featuring as my special interest subject, all at the expense of FW.

In reality it is a straight holiday at my expense, which, what with the football world cup, the jubilee and our wedding anniversary all clashing, could be a bit of a budget buster.

At home the long-pool Malacca wheat is being loaded. The spec generally seems okay bar the odd low protein or specific weight grumble. Fortunately it was all sold early in the season, so I hope for a good net price, but poor yields from harvest 2001 will leave little if any profit.

The state of wheat markets is a poke in the eye to all those economists, consultants, gurus, call them what you will experts, who were advocating wall to wall wheat as the most profitable system not so long ago. The logistics of large wheat areas make a sensible rotation first choice for most.

However, what we really need is a lucrative new breakcrop. A crop with large market potential, like that of oilseed rape when it took off in the 1970s. Too many contenders are unreliable or only have niche markets. Promising as lupins or soya may be I believe they probably suit livestock units for home use GM free rations best.

I am pleased Lord Whitty will visit Sprays and Sprayers this year. It is an opportunity to demonstrate to Government that farming has made huge strides in pesticide safety over recent years. After all, its only 20 years ago that quirky devices such as Ultra Low Volume Application (ULVA) masts that drifted fungicide over crops were in use – a good wind speed was deemed most beneficial! Improved training, better chemicals and equipment, sprayer MOTs and crop assurance are indicators of how far we have come. It is why UK produce deserves a fair price. &#42

Strides made in pesticide safety and assurance will show Lord Whitty why UK produce deserves a fair price, says Andrew Kerr.

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Andrew Kerr

24 May 2002

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

WHERE has the spring oilseed rape gone, Daddy? Thats a good question, son, was my deflated reply to our three-year-old assistant manager as we walked the barren field five weeks after drilling. Seed vigour was reduced to the point that the plants are only just growing away from the cotyledon stage now.

However, other crops are romping away in the hot damp conditions of the past week and I am glad fertilisers are all on. A local horseracing fan and farmer has a simple fertiliser policy. Get it all on oilseed rape by Cheltenham, barley by the Craven meeting and the wheat by the 2000 Guineas. A crude guide maybe, but it works.

Wheat potential here is fair rather than stunning due to thinning by gout fly and sticky drilling conditions in some fields. That said, early-drilled crops in the neighbourhood that looked forward and fabulous all spring are slowly being spoilt by unwelcome blackgrass, wild oats and brome, a timely reminder why I am not a keen early driller.

Opera (epoxiconazole + pyraclostrobin) at 0.5-0.75 litres/ha according to variety is my flag leaf fungicide choice, picked for its perceived kickback ability given the recent showery, septoria-spreading conditions. Also our local buying group, West Essex Farmers, got a blinding deal. If dry weather follows, I hope to get away without a T3 spray.

The potato market is still in disarray. Most of our crop is long gone but the derisory offers by the trade for the remainder are well below production cost. Who can blame growers for wanting to reclaim their pound of flesh when roles are reversed? Surely, more fairly priced supply contracts would benefit grower and retailer alike.

Margaret Becketts demands for an end to UK farm subsidies is no surprise. That, and many other naïve policies, prove we can only rely on Brussels and self help to turn our industry around. A builder asked me the other day what DEFRA stood for. "The Department Enabling the Final Riddance of Agriculture" was my reply. &#42

Andrew Kerr says offers for the remainder of his potato crop are derisory.

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Andrew Kerr

29 March 2002

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

THE other night I watched an episode of ITVs Survivor programme. It struck me the producers could have saved themselves a few bob on the exotic island location by filming the unfolding crises down on the farm instead. Here, true "survivors" may still be found, whether they endured the recent foot-and-mouth debacle, or are contemplating harvest with wheat prices of only £55/t.

But no, they couldnt possibly do that; it would be giving mainstream farming the voice it so desperately needs. The media seem more interested in peddling the arrogant lies perpetuated by the organic movements marketing people. Meanwhile we conventional farmers concentrate on cost control and integrating efficient production with environmental measures. Perhaps there is a lesson there?

Recently I enjoyed a seminar with minimal tillage expert Steve Townsend. The philosophy of min-till, using low disturbance cultivation or even direct drilling can, in my view, work well in dry years. However, the past couple of damp summers have left shallow compaction and subsequent ponding problems on our heavy clay soils. The real lesson to be learnt is to encourage earthworm and soil bacteria whenever possible and to get the spade out more often.

Min-till or even direct-drill will be tried on a few trial areas in different fields this autumn and, hopefully, our purchase of a second-hand Cat Challenger 55 crawler and use of treated biosolids will encourage soil improvement across the farm. Our Simba cultipress will be adapted to work in stubbles where possible and the drill can apply liquid fertiliser to the seeding zone when necessary anyway, thanks to some home-made technology.

The newly released NIAB list caused some amusement. The highly rated wheat newcomer Xi19 grown here for seed last year is still in the shed, having recently been dressed for ergot infestation. Other older varieties sown at the same time were unaffected. Is there something I should know? Cropwise, the early top dressings are on oilseed rape, second wheat and grass seed crops, with first pgrs due inearly April. &#42

Andrew Kerr is planning some trial areas of min-till and direct-drill next autumn with the Cultipress which will be adapted to work in stubbles.

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Andrew Kerr

1 March 2002

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

I SEE recent issues of farmers weekly included Farmer Focus reports from Germany and France – is my P45 in the post?

Am I on borrowed time? – Will I be replaced by a Euro-zone grower? Seriously though, I was intrigued by the reports which put a different perspective on all things European. Welcome aboard, guys, we value your opinion.

At home the wet weather has frustrated attempts to apply the first split of nitrogen to oilseed rape. To cut costs I will limit crops to two passes of liquid fertiliser albeit at high rates each time. First year cereals will probably wait until late March in line with my usual unscientific approach – that is give them a big dollop before we start spud planting and the rest when we finish.

There is no urgency here to apply pgrs to wheat either. Band sowing at lowish seed-rates with our Horsch drill has given plants space to tiller producing a prostrate growth habit. The downside is that weeds are harder to spot.

Potato markets are sluggish, but that is normal until Easter. I am staggered that only 400 or so growers have 30ha (74 acres) or more of spuds these days. One bright spark calculates that at the current rate of attrition there will only be two of us left by 2008. At least the lucky pair will be able to set a fair price for their produce!

Rather than "hot stuff", I found the Curry report rather lukewarm. I agree duty on biodiesel should be reduced to 4.5p/litre. That would kickstart a vital new industry for hard-pressed arable farmers, so lets do it Gordon! But our government is akin to the budding yuppie with champagne tastes and aspirations but only lemonade pockets. The plans for ever increasing modulation are bordering on suicidal, I believe. However many environmental schemes one adopts the net result will be negative. &#42

Wet weather has frustrated attempts to get fertiliser on to oilseed rape at Wylding Tree Farm, says Andrew Kerr.

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Andrew Kerr

1 February 2002

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and

brother at Wyldingtree

Farm, North Weald, Essex.

Cropping is potatoes,

including some on rented

ground, plus cereals,

herbage seed and

oilseed rape

IT is showtime! Well, not exactly, but it was a pleasure to attend the LAMMA show in mid-January after a seasons events were lost to foot-and-mouth.

We spent most of the day drooling at potato equipment – hardly surprising after two consecutive difficult growing seasons that have highlighted some improvements needed in our tackle. After all, we cant rely on the weather to behave can we?

However, it seems nobody has yet made a potato-grader that is foolproof, comfortable to work on all day and happy in mud, glorious mud. One small item that did grab my attention was a newly available and simple GPS guidance system that is easily transferred between tractors. Imagine it – no more wonky drilling, spray-misses or overlaps. Cultivations could be guaranteed dead straight too. Even I might win the local farms competition with one of these devices!

Needless to say, my local agent has convinced me we need a demonstration this spring. That gives credence to my neighbours argument that it is far cheaper to spend the winter pheasant shooting rather than at shows or in the workshop where the temptation to "trash the cash" can be too great to resist.

Other winter excursions have involved ATB training courses on, among other things, the dreaded LERAPs. I have also enrolled on an ADER-sponsored computer course costing only £40 for 12 hours tuition. My current understanding of computers is Neanderthal at best so surely this will bring a cost-effective improvement.

On the farm we have been grading King Edward potatoes for export to the Canaries and delivering bulk grass-seed to a local farm for pre-cleaning. There has been a pleasing, if slight, lift in cleaned seed prices since last year, reaching the heady heights of £18/50kg for Greengold and £22/50kg for the lower yielding Abergold. It is a sobering sign of the times that our first grass-seed crop, in 1996, made double that price but merchant retail prices have barely altered. Sounds familiar doesnt it? &#42

Andrew Kerr is moving last summers herbage seed harvest. Prices have improved but are still only half what they were in 1996, he says.

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Andrew Kerr

30 November 2001

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

agrimoney compensation, ignorance of basic farming issues, the list goes on. All spin and no substance is the inevitable conclusion.

November is the month when we traditionally review our successes or failures and start to plan for the next campaign. To that effect we have decided to review our machinery and labour policy and ADAS machinery guru John Bailey has paid us a visit.

Much to my surprise, our current system was considered reasonably effective but our prime mover tractor, a New Holland series 70, is possibly too small for its work schedule.

My mind sprang to thoughts of sexy beasts such as a Case Quadtrac but like John Jeffreys bank manager, my man from Barclays soon put paid to that idea. We will probably look for a good low hours model of a wheeled tractor instead.

A recent BPC event held locally included guest speakers on exports, volunteer control and the future of heavy land potato growing. I thought the old incarnation of the BPC – the Potato Marketing Board – a bit of an old school tie network with little interest in its levy contributors.

This new organisation is both more accountable and informative in my opinion. If you want to get a return on your levy money then speak to them and take advantage of the information available.

Many of our Continental competitors envy our organised research structure and the fact that our potatoes are often more valuable.

On the farm, I have kept busy completing autumn spraying, drilling winter beans and CIPC gassing potatoes for other growers.

Finally, a word to my fellow Farmer Focus contributor John Best. Congratulations to your Irish lads for a rare rugby victory over the English, but as for the All Blacks – they came and they conquered. &#42

WHO said that farmers would be better off under a Labour government? This administration deserves a public flogging when one analyses just how little is being done to help the general farming situation.

Muddled management of foot-and-mouth, failure to claim EU agrimoney compensation, ignorance of basic farming issues, the list goes on. All spin and no substance is the inevitable conclusion.

November is the month when we traditionally review our successes or failures and start to plan for the next campaign. To that effect we have decided to review our machinery and labour policy and ADAS machinery guru John Bailey has paid us a visit.

Much to my surprise, our current system was considered reasonably effective but our prime mover tractor, a New Holland series 70, is possibly too small for its work schedule.

My mind sprang to thoughts of sexy beasts such as a Case Quadtrac but like John Jeffreys bank manager, my man from Barclays soon put paid to that idea. We will probably look for a good low hours model of a wheeled tractor instead.

A recent BPC event held locally included guest speakers on exports, volunteer control and the future of heavy land potato growing. I thought the old incarnation of the BPC – the Potato Marketing Board – a bit of an old school tie network with little interest in its levy contributors.

This new organisation is both more accountable and informative in my opinion. If you want to get a return on your levy money then speak to them and take advantage of the information available.

Many of our Continental competitors envy our organised research structure and the fact that our potatoes are often more valuable.

On the farm, I have kept busy completing autumn spraying, drilling winter beans and CIPC gassing potatoes for other growers.

Finally, a word to my fellow Farmer Focus contributor John Best. Congratulations to your Irish lads for a rare rugby victory over the English, but as for the All Blacks – they came and they conquered. &#42

"What do you mean I cant have a Quadtrac?" asks Andrew Kerr.

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Andrew Kerr

2 November 2001

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

As I write this article the rain is still falling like stair rods. Fieldwork ground to an abrupt halt last week and it is sad to think that a year ago I was saying almost exactly the same thing.

Cereal drilling finished on Oct 17 at Wyldingtree and I have to confess that I resorted to broadcasting the last 12ha (30 acres) following spuds. After initial subsoiling and cultivation, conditions had seriously deteriorated and we ended up tickling the wheat seed in with a pass of a spring-tine cultivator. The last time I tried that was back in 1987, and emergence of the crop justified leaving the drill in the shed rather than marooned in a wet hole.

The potato team have done phenomenally well to reduce the unharvested area to just 4ha (10 acres) by the end of October. The Pearson harvester redeemed its earlier breakdowns with its ability to lift in appalling conditions.

Now, my main worry revolves around getting the cereal spraying done before the blackgrass gets out of control. Recent mild weather has made many local early drillings resemble well-manicured lawns rather than cereal crops. Subsequent problems with weeds, disease and lodging look highly likely – Utopia for the chemical salesmen! My product choice will probably major on a Lexus/Hawk (flupyrsulfuron-methyl/clodinafop-propargyl + trifluralin) combination, ideally applied once a frost has toughened the crop. Early sowings have already had a treatment for gout fly and manganese.

Oilseed rape has had a graminicide, namely BASFs new dim, Aramo (tepraloxydim). So far it appears to be doing the business on some "difficult" blackgrass.

I was rather stunned to hear the latest and daftest proposed EU directive. Apparently if some nutters in Brussels get their way we will soon be restricted to three hours tractor-driving/day for health reasons. Either these people have a major shareholding in a robotic tractor design or, and more probably, they have never actually sampled the comfort of modern suspended tractor cabs. &#42

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Andrew Kerr

5 October 2001

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

AN INDIAN summer? I dont think so! Whatever happened to those halcyon days of yesteryear when seed-bed moisture always seemed in short supply?

Now, the perennial struggle is with the wet. We have already received more than our 630mm (25in) annual average and with three months of the year to go another record-breaking soaker is on the cards. Oct 1 to Oct 1 we have had 1100mm (43in).

The local soothsayer tells me that the difference between a good farmer and an indifferent one is about two weeks in terms of operational timeliness. Working on that basis we have been burning the candles at both ends with spud harvesting and drilling whenever conditions and reliability permit.

Wheat sowing started Sept 15 with Claire at 100kg/ha (0.8cwt/acre) going into a good seed-bed after canola. To date we are 75% drilled up with some second wheats and a field after spuds left. The latter would be drilled too but for SCATS/BDRs decision that Tanker is not an "early-driller" and, therefore, there was no rush with delivery. As the field is now a sodden mess please let me be the judge of that!

But the real bugbear of the season has been several unjustified and unexpected breakdowns with both potato harvester and drill. Control panel circuit boards have failed repeatedly, harvester star shafts sheared in half, and regular welding repairs to the levelling board and main lift frame on the drill drive have been needed. If problems occur due to poor maintenance we reap our just reward but such failures drive me to despair.

Manufacturers may have made machinery more productive and pleasant to use, but reliability has not improved one iota.

In the good old days dealers carried vital parts in stock. Now, you drive four or five hours to some far flung manufacturer for a part then hand a percentage of that cost back to the local "dealer" who did not stock it. We can only exact our revenge at replacement time. &#42

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Andrew Kerr

17 August 2001

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

HARVEST 2001 – the realisation of a seasons dream for some, but the beginning of a nightmare for the rest of us.

Yields of early harvested crops around here are nowhere near barn-busting level. A good result on the canola – the crop formerly known as oilseed rape – being 2.5t/ha (20cwt/acre) and with winter barley 7.5t/ha (3t/acre).

The talk in the local pub on a damp evening is about who has won the booby prize for worst crop in the area. On such nights yields normally increase as beer consumption rises.

I knew things were not going to plan when a hefty thunderstorm caused about 25% of our Abergold perennial ryegrass herbage seed to shed just before it was fit to combine. That left a miserable yield of 1t/ha (8cwt/acre) compared to later variety Greengold which produced about 2t/ha (16cwt/acre). Most of the hay has been baled and the balance sold in the swath to a local straw merchant.

Despite a full pre-season service, we have also run into a few minor combine problems, the most arduous being a lack of air conditioning during the hot spell.

I was shocked to hear how many farmers ring our local dealer for a combine overhaul the week before harvest, diverting attention away from genuine breakdowns.

The recreational tillage season has begun on set-aside, with some farms making four or five passes. We have moved ours only once with the combined subsoiler and power harrow unit mentioned last month to good effect.

Some ground after canola has also received similar treatment. Hopefully weathering and a spray of glyphosate will be all that is needed prior to sowing and rolling.

We have recently acquired a used Horsch airseeder drill. I had originally hoped to share a machine with a friend but differing tramline widths and other logistical problems saw us go it alone. Now I will be able to offer direct drilling, fertiliser placement and bean sowing to my contract customers. &#42

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Andrew Kerr

23 March 2001

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

www.lpga.co.uk for details of grants and systems available.

The much hoped for dry spring is proving slow to materialise. Field activity has so far been limited to applying liquid fertiliser on second wheat and oilseed rape.

Even that was nearly thwarted when the fertiliser mixer pump decided to throw a wobbly and I was somewhat concerned when the British pump manufacturer quoted a nonchalant six to eight weeks to supply replacement parts. But thanks to Peter Eaden and Spraytec we found an alternative supplier. &#42

The budget did little to excite, says Essex grower Andrew Kerr who suggests a switch to LPG to cut farm vehicle running costs could be well worthwhile.

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