29 October 1999

Dry break welcome in west

With the tail end of Hurricane

Irene looming last week,

farmers weeklys western

barometer farmer was

thankful for the recent dry

spell. Andrew Blake reports

PLANS to drill wheat at North Farm a bit earlier this year went out of the window after 140mm (5.5in) of rain fell from mid-September.

"We had hoped to start about Sept 18," recalls FW western barometer farmer Andrew Cooke. "We do not normally go until October, because crops can get too far ahead here. But we were caught out last year and I wanted to see if we could get some in sooner. In the event the weather stopped us."

But a dramatic turn for the better on the farm at Felton Butler, near Shrewsbury, saw an Oct 9 start, and most of the 93ha (230 acres) of first wheats were in by last Thursday when rain came again.

Potato harvesting was eventually completed on Oct 18 and a start has been made on sugar beet lifting.

"We have been lucky. At one time it looked like being a disaster. If the rain hadnt stopped we could have been in the cart. But seed-beds have generally been our best ever and I have been able to roll everything. I think we may even be better off than others who pressed on when conditions were quite so good.

"All we have now to sow is the 53 acres of second wheats, rather more than I would like, and I would not want to go much earlier than mid-October with these anyway."

Fears that sprouting might mean having to buy in seed were dispelled by germination tests ranging from 87 to 94%. "It looked worse." So all the wheat, mostly Equinox and Claire bar a small batch of Consort to go in after the sugar beet, has been home-saved.

With lodging a constant concern on the fertile sandy silt, seed rate has been cut to 200-220/sq m. "We used about 230 last year and nothing went down. But apart from the 4.3t/acre of Consort after beans, yields were a bit less than I expected, probably because we didnt use enough nitrogen. We averaged 3.75, but they were mostly first wheats so it should have been 4. "I think they could probably have done with another 1cwt/acre of N, and this season I shall definitely be doing some soil mineral N tests." The combination of reduced seed rate and slightly poorer germination than usual should provide the sort of stand to absorb it safely without going down, he says.

NORTHFARM

&#8226 Lucky with weather & seed-beds.

&#8226 Early sugar beet looking good.

&#8226 Potatoes disappointing.

&#8226 On-costs & assurance disturbing.

Silly rent money

Expansion to spread fixed costs is attractive but not at the sort of entry rents some growers are apparently prepared to pay, says Mr Cooke.

"We would like to take on an extra 300-400 acres, and there are opportunities. But I think the land agents involved take too much out of them. There isnt the money in farming now to pay for expensively drawn up contracts. I believe more could be done on straightforward one-to-one renting deals.

"Some people are paying an amazing £100/acre as an entry guarantee. By the time you put in realistic bills that is stretching it much too far. I reckon the initial acreage rent should be nearer the price of a ton of wheat. That would be fairer."