18 January 2002

Damp, dull and foggy…

T:HE bright, crisp and dry weather over Christmas and New Year has been replaced by damp, dull and foggy conditions. Weather that has done nothing to improve the level of doom and depression which seems to have afflicted the industry.

Our first bad news came from Advanta Seeds UK with which we are contracted to grow vining peas for seed production. Having estimated a yield of 68t or 3.2t/ha after harvest we were disappointed to learn that the ex-farm tonnage was down to 60.38t or 2.84t/ha when loading out just before Christmas. This is our worst performance for peas to date having previously achieved a 5-year average of 4.12t/ha. Harvesting conditions were clearly far from ideal and heavy rain back in July had already left its mark on crop quality.

Pre-delivery test results last Sept confirmed that germination averaged 94%, moisture 13.5% and waste 7.3%. Electro-conductivity test readings were above the level of 24 micro siemens which, if sustained at cleaning, would mean that we would fail to qualify for a bonus payment.

It was with trepidation therefore that I returned a phone call from Advanta last week to learn that the bonus of £20/t would not be paid. But our peas would be accepted for seed on the normal contract terms of a premium of £60/t payable over the FARMERS WEEKLY guide price for feed peas at the time of movement at 0% waste.

The net result will be about 55t of dressed seed paid at £147/t and the remainder at the agreed feed price of £87/t. The impact will be a reduction in the estimated crop gross margin of about £3,000 down to around £428.69/ha (£173.56/acre) bringing into question the viability of pulses at Easton Lodge.

If seed peas are to remain viable we need a yield of 4t/ha (1.6t/acre) at £170/t inclusive of premium and bonus to compare with other combinable crops.

The variable costs of production for growing peas for seed amounts to £222.45/ha (£90/acre) of which the seed cost is £120.94/ha (£49/acre) for last year. The requirement for a rotational break with clean land free of blackgrass and wild oats is essential. Keen attention to detail throughout the growing season and additional inputs to control pests and diseases to ensure seed quality are also important.

It is no longer sufficient for merchants to rely on farmers regarding peas as a good entry for wheat. We cannot afford this luxury even if it were true; we must have a proper return or they will have to look elsewhere for growers.

Harvest 2002 is committed to including peas and irrespective of any straight talking that may have taken place we shall honour our agreement albeit only verbal. No decision should be made on the basis of one bad year and our merchant/farmer relationship, built up over 30 years, is too strong to jeopardise at this stage. But lessons have been learned on both sides.

We still have malting barley and milling wheat in store which, judging by the early New Year reports, is trading in a buyers market as ever. The barley is on contract with collection to be negotiated. But for the first time in years I have not sold any milling wheat from the 2001 harvest or forward for 2002 which may prove a big mistake. Only time will tell.

At the year-end we have time to peruse the rainfall figures for last year, shown in the table.

The 10-year mean rainfall is 667.4mm, almost exactly the same as the total for last year while the 40-year mean is considerably less at 594.4mm.

The points of note from last year were the wetter than usual month of February followed by the wet March which prevented an early start to spring land work. Rainfall continued above average for both April and May but failed in June when needed most.

The harvesting months of July and August had frustrating amounts of rain. Although Sept and Oct rainfall did not match the wet autumn of 2000, it was nonetheless still substantial compared with the 40-year mean.

Nov and Dec were the driest months for the past 10 years with a remarkable 18.3mm for December.

The wettest month by comparison was in April 1998 weighing in at a soggy 143.2mm and the driest month in the 10-year period was August 1995 at 3.6mm. &#42

Turning to sugar beet we have managed to send a further nine loads to the British Sugar factory at Wissington making a total of 29 loads. We still have 3.6ha (9 acres) in the ground which represent about another seven loads. To have moved 80% of our crop by mid-January in this appalling season is not too bad.

Without our returns from the factory it is difficult to be sure, but I estimate that we have delivered 92% of our A and B quota of 904t. That would give us an estimated yield of 53t/ha adjusted to 16% sugar which is similar to last years result.

Despite the problems at Wissington sugar beet factory, Easton Lodge has delivered 29 loads representing more that 90% of the farms A and B quota of 904t. Last week 3.6ha (9 acres) remained to be harvested.

1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 40-year


Jan 66.0 54.5 57.7 83.2 38.9 20.4 65.5 80.9 11.5 33.0 50.8

Feb 15.2 10.9 42.6 72.5 40.8 46.0 6.4 35.6 45.7 66.8 36.5

Mar 59.3 13.9 60.7 30.5 27.1 10.0 49.5 43.4 13.7 77.6 43.1

Apr 31.7 82.2 49.2 13.2 23.7 26.7 143.2 36.9 140.1 77.3 47.5

May 51.0 57.1 45.1 34.3 24.6 72.1 9.6 51.2 88.2 63.8 45.5

June 91.5 54.2 11.2 11.3 19.5 142.7 118.1 74.4 13.1 28.8 53.1

July 105.9 77.8 34.5 18.7 28.9 71.4 23.2 22.2 66.2 71.4 51.1

Aug 93.1 39.2 51.1 3.6 58.2 90.1 41.2 78.7 44.6 40.0 56.9

Sept 131.6 106.7 122.7 108.3 9.2 7.5 74.9 91.3 87.0 69.8 57.2

Oct 102.3 62.6 58.0 23.5 46.1 50.2 86.2 69.8 99.7 89.7 48.3

Nov 76.7 64.9 48.0 57.2 82.7 73.3 38.6 31.1 103.3 29.2 52.5

Dec 32.7 80.9 54.1 62.9 50.5 52.8 58.6 64.7 70.9 18.3 51.9

Total 857.0 704.9 634.9 519.2 450.2 663.2 715.0 680.2 784.0 665.7 594.4