22 August 1997

Harvest up on last year

– only oats disappoint

Harvest up on last year

– only oats disappoint

Harvest has been something of a mixed bag this year, with some crops achieving record yields and others being a disappointment. Suzie Horne reports

ALTHOUGH it has been a stop-start harvest at Whelan Farms, this has had its advantages, allowing crops to mature while never being wet enough to hold things up for too long.

"At first we were forcing things a bit, and if the weather had been right in July, we would have been into the peas. Weve had more than 3in of rain since we started combining, but nearly everything has come in dry," says manager Robert Kilby.

A pre-harvest service of the drier found that there was no power supply. No reason could be found by the electricity company for the disconnection, and it took almost a month for the supply to be reinstated. No explanation has been given for this delay either.

As a consequence, the company will be receiving a bill for drying and transporting several loads of rape which would have gone through the farms drier had it been in service when it was needed.

Combining started on July 19 in the Fighter barley, which at 6.55t/ha (2.65t/acre) came off slightly better than last year, and the 14.5% moisture reading meant no drying costs. Just as well, because it was sold at £70/t and has now left the farm.

The winter barley acreage will drop this autumn to be replaced with oats, which year on year have produced a better gross margin. The wheat acreage will also come down, but this is purely a rotational factor, says Mr Kilby, who resists changing cropping from year to year just to follow the market. He prefers to switch varieties rather than switch crop.

A few teething problems with the new combine were sorted out relatively easily, and the Claydon yield meter seems far more reliable than the device on the previous machine.

Rape came in at between 8% and 10% moisture, with one field of Amber yielding a record for the farm of 4.9t/ha (2t/acre). But it was lodged and so was the slowest and most difficult to combine. At the other end of the scale, the same variety yielded just 2.47t/ha (1t/acre) on one field, but Mr Kilby blames this on the land rather than the variety.

With Apex making 3.7t/ha (1.5t/acre), the average yield across the rape was 3.8t/ha (1.55t/acre). So far 100t has been sold for an average of £156.25/t ex-farm, and the remaining 125t has gone into a Dalgety pool.

A lower than usual bushel weight and 6% screenings on the oats are so far the only disappointing harvest results at Whelan Farms. They came in at 47kg/hl compared with the farms more usual 52kg or 53kg. Mr Kilby attributes this to lack of sunshine in June. He has now sold the crop for £70/t ex farm on a low specification to go for export this week.

The farms peas will also go onto a boat at Tilbury this week, sold for £93/t ex-farm. Grafila averaged a very pleasing 5.4t/ha (2.2t/acre), while the Eiffel came off at 4.92t/ha (2t/acre), both better yields than last year despite being on some of the farms poorest chalk land.

Uneven ripening due to some lodging meant that the peas had to be desiccated for the first time since Mr Kilby arrived at Whelan.

At 1.65% nitrogen, the Chariot spring barley will earn a malting premium of £26/t for movement in October, provided the germination is acceptable. It came off at 6.5t/ha (2.65t/acre), 63kg/hl, 13% moisture and 3.5% screenings.

With the aim of keeping chemical costs as low as possible this autumn, Mr Kilby is holding off ploughing to allow volunteers and weed seedlings to chit first.

Over at the dairy unit things are looking up despite the as yet unannounced price cut expected from Oct 1. Rolling results for the year to the end of July show margin over concentrates at £1336 a cow – well up on the £1248 figure for the same time last year.

Calving is going well and the cows are milking better than expected, so Mr Kilby will be able to put the important 7000 litres yield figure in the budget for the year starting Oct 1, which is sooner than expected.

Cows are still out day and night, but stay in for an hour morning and afternoon for a 30kg buffer feed of 8kg maize silage, 12kg grass silage and 10kg brewers grains. Mr Kilby has bought 125t of brewers grains at £14/t delivered. "Thats cheaper than I can feed silage," he says. "Its a very good balancer and the cows love it – at that price you cant go wrong."

Tilbury maize gluten has also been booked right through the winter at £94/t delivered for 50t bulk blown lots.

There has been a switch of compound feed supplier for the winter, with Sentry Farming buying as a group from Dalgety. For Whelan Farms this means a massive saving of 22% on feed prices against last years costs, and the price cut applies across all feeds.

In future Mr Kilby may look at an out-of-parlour blend from this source to put through the feed wagon rather than buying in his straights as he now does.n

Flame winter wheat is cut using the farms new Class Mega Dominator 218 combine. The crop came off at 14.5% moisture, yielding a respectable 8.15t/ha (3.3t/acre) from light chalky land.

FARMFACTS

&#8226 A 649ha (1604-acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd recently increased to 200 cows averaging just over 6000 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Six full-time staff.