2 August 2002

Harvest finally underway

Harvest has just begun at

Freefolk Farms, after recent

hot weather helped ripen

crops. Robert Harris reports

BAKING sunshine last weekend finally pulled down the moisture in the oilseed rape to an acceptable combining level, much to the relief of the farm staff at Freefolk Farms who have been itching to make a start on this years harvest campaign.

Late-drilled Pearl winter barley was still a few days from being fit at the end of last week. So the farms New Holland combine moved into the 53ha (130 acres) of oilseed rape, mainly Escort, desiccated with Roundup.

By Tuesday morning, 24ha (60 acres) had been cut, and trailers had hauled 80t to the barn. "Its doing just over 26cwt/acre, slightly above budget. But the real bonus is that it is coming in at about 8% moisture and clean," says James Crosbie Dawson. "Its a good looking sample."

He is hopeful that other crops will at least achieve budget yields, pencilled in at 7.7t/ha (3.1t/acre) for wheat, 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre) for winter barley and oats, and 5.7t/ha (2.3t/acre) for spring barley.

"They have got to yield quite well," he says. "There are no holes in the crops, and we have a good plant population. Ear size in both wheat and barley is good, though the latter has a few blind grain sites." He suspects wet weather at flowering is the most likely cause.

"We seemed to have contained diseases quite well, despite the wet weather in June and the first half of July. Crops are also ripening off very nicely. I may be quite wrong, but I believe this summer has been ideal for cereals, with plenty of moisture, and bright intervening periods without being too hot."

With only one field in second wheat, the farm has largely escaped take-all, which has proved a problem in the area this season.

As reported in our previous visits, much of this harvests grain has been sold either on contract or forward. However, 30ha (75 acres) of Optic, which should produce about 170t, remains unsold, despite a recent offer of £13/t over feed for October, which works out at about £70/t. "Im not tempted at that price. I think I might get a bit more – like most farmers, ever the optimist," says Mr Crosbie Dawson.

Grass has also benefited from the rain, and the dairy herd is still averaging 22 litres/head a day. This should help maintain the improved rolling results – in the year to June 2002, yield/cow rose to 8019 litres, compared with 7325 litres/cow in the previous 12 month period. With a milk price of 18.17p/litre (up from 17.66p/litre), each cow produced £1457-worth of milk during the year (up from £1293/cow).

At 0.31kg/litre, concentrate use remains exactly the same. But the price, at £115.80/t, is about £1 higher than the previous year, and over £9000 has been spent on other feed, pushing total purchased feed costs to 4.31p/litre. This has caused margin over purchased feed to slip by 0.2p/litre to 13.86p/litre in the year to June 2002, but, due to higher yields, has risen by £85 to £1111/cow. For the herd, MOPF stands at £175,546, a jump of almost £17,000 on the year.

As predicted, the second cut of silage has filled the clamps, which hold 1200t. The 32ha (80 acres) was completed following rain in the first half of July. "Unlike last year, we wont be needing a third cut," says Mr Crosbie Dawson. "So we have plenty of grass ahead of the cows, and we may end up cutting some and putting it into big bags."

This year, almost half the 150 pedigree Holstein cattle are in calf to Holstein bulls, with the balance put to Simmental. Bull calves from the latter group and stronger heifer calves will be sold at 7-10 days old. "There appears to be a firm market – I have been quoted £125-150/head for bulls, and £30-60/head for heifers."

Mr Crosbie Dawson has decided to keep Holstein Friesian bull calves on the farm, rather than send them to the hunt kennels. Poorer quality heifers will also be reared before selling to a finisher.

"I have decided to keep anything I cant get a decent price for. I shall keep the bulls entire, and sell them on at 6-7 months old. My calf buyer says there will be a market – and so there should be. This is just the sort of animal that is making up the bulk of imports into this country at the moment."

One concern follows a decision to send all the dry cows to an off-lying 40ha (100 acre) block of pasture in Wilts. Unfortunately, the neighbouring farm recently tested positive for TB, meaning that Freefolk Farms is now classed as a contiguous farm.

"We will have to bring all the stock back and get the whole herd tested," says Mr Dawson. "If we get some inconclusives, we will not be able to move any stock for 60 days before a retest. And who will have to cover the cost of not being able to move calves if that happens?"

With just seven weeks to go, thoughts are turning towards the Countryside March to be held in London on Sep 22. Although Mr Crosbie Dawson, who is chairman of the Hants branch of the Countryside Alliance, believes public support has shifted significantly towards the rural minority, he is leaving nothing to chance and is trying to persuade as many people as possible to attend.

"Many people think the march is all about being pro-hunting. It is not – it is about being pro-choice. People who believe those who want to hunt should be allowed to, should go on the march. Similarly, people who shoot and fish and think their sports are safe are kidding themselves, and should make their voices heard too.

"Those who are sick and tired of the urban majority trying to dictate how the countryside is run should also attend, to help drive home to government just how strongly the rural population feel about this sort of interference with our liberty and livelihood." &#42

James Crosbie Dawson (left), combine driver Adrian Lawrence and tractor driver Alan Brighty have been keenly awaiting harvest. Initial results on the oilseed rape are promising.

&#8226 Freefolk Farms, based at Overton, Hants, a 720ha (1800-acre) arable and dairy unit, run as a limited company with James Crosbie Dawson and his wife, Jackie, as directors.

&#8226 Land is grade 3 medium loam over chalk with flints, with areas of clay cap.

&#8226 Arable area of 500ha (1250 acres). Crops include winter wheat, winter and spring barley for malting, oilseed rape.

&#8226 I60-cow pedigree Holstein herd averaging 7800 litres a cow.

&#8226 Calving September to January. Total dairy forage area of 75ha (185 acres).

&#8226 Five full-time staff including Mr Crosbie Dawson, plus part-time secretary.

Pearl winter barley should hit budgeted yields despite a few blind grain sites.