7 September 2001

Best wheat disappoints

THE first wheat was combined at Vimer during the night of Aug 1, writes Tim Green. That particular field had always looked well, but failed to live up to expectations yielding only 5t/ha (2t/acre).

Damage by deer and wild boar, coupled with delayed spraying because of poor weather conditions, all contributed to a poor result. With hindsight we should have re-drilled part of the field with maize as several of our neighbours had done.

Fortunately, the rest of our wheat fared better. That had virtually no damage from game animals and because the crops were drilled later the timing of fertiliser and spray treatment was better.

Of the two fields in question, one managed 8t/ha (3.2t/acre); the other 7.5t/ha (3t/acre) which means a respectable 6.8t/ha (2.7t/acre) average for the season. That seems about par for the course this year, with yields varying from disastrous to reasonable. Overall, cereal yields in Normandy have been similar to the rest of France being down by 10-15% compared with last year.

Proteins have also suffered although Hagbergs and specific weights are reasonable. At Vimer we achieved our best specific weights ever with 78kg/hl on our first sample and 76.7kg/hl in the wheat we have sold.

Usually our samples fall below the required 75kg/hl and we have to rely on our merchant working an acceptable average with other deliveries.

Most retained

Most of our crop has been retained for feeding at home but the last load was sold and we should receive an initial payment of about £63.50/t with the hope of an extra payment later.

Despite having combined through the night that wheat still had a moisture content of only 13.7%. Although combining at night makes for a long day, especially with cowman Jacques on holiday, it does make a big difference to the yield of straw. Having not used any growth regulator this year, yield and quality are both very good and we will keep this straw for feeding. Apparently, wheat grown without a regulator is worth at least £2/t more if it can be sold into the organic sector.

We will have to feed a lot of straw this winter because little hay was made and our grass silage will soon be finished. Having had some rain earlier on we were looking quite comfortable for the month of August, but several days of 90F to 100F plus have scorched all the grass and we have had to reintroduce feeding hay and even more grass silage.

The maize crop is fairly advanced this year but we will still have to start feeding it before the ideal stage, because our grass silage will be exhausted. Once again, our efforts to build a reserve of grass have been scuppered by the heat because the grass dies on its feed and the cows pick at it with disdain. At least with some wheat back in store we can economise on some dairy cake which costs £122/t and we can start to finish some lambs.

Obviously, with UK sheep supplies blocked, we have a sellers market for sheep. Prices are 30% up on the year and demand is steady especially in the tourist areas. Good lambs are worth £3.15kgdw.

Even the new regulations for the removal of specific risk material have not affected consumer demand. Reports of the viral disease "blue tongue", a disease confined to hot countries, may well end up affecting the market, but the limited home supplies should ensure that demand continues to outstrip supply.

We have been advised to finish our lambs and not hold on to them. The reason is partly in case UK exports re-start and partly because we will shortly have to declare whether our lambs are more than six months of age which will doubtless affect the price. Normally smaller entire lambs would be kept back for the Moslem festivals next year. But that could now be very complicated with the new specified risk material regulations. Consequently those lambs will also be finished as soon as possible. That will add up to fewer lambs being available later in the year and prices could move up again. Even so, it is a gamble we are not prepared to take at Vimer. In any event, because we have limited supplies of feed and accommodation is at a premium, we are looking to reduce the number of livestock this winter. We are even aiming to finish a bunch of barren cows as soon as some maize becomes available.

Indifferent prices

Prices are not brilliant and we recently sold a heifer with male hormone problems. She made only £1/kgdw but because she was upsetting all the others it was more prudent to remove her. Even good cows are worth only £1.15p/kgdw so it is not very economic to spend too much money on them to finish them.

With fodder in short supply all the wheat stubbles are being cultivated and sown with Speedyl, Italian ryegrass at a cost of £1.54/kg.

It will be utilised by sheep and young stock and, hopefully, an early bite for cows if silage supplies are tight. Having green cover on the stubbles is also viewed very favourably when filling in our environmental audit, something that will become compulsory in years to come. &#42