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Ian Crawford

6 September 2002

Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford grows packing

potatoes, milling wheat and

beans on 324ha (800 acres)

of rented land from Swiss

Cottage Farm, Carrington,

Cheshire and owns and

runs 2000ha (5000 acres)

of mainly arable land in

Western Australia

DUST is flying in Cheshire and it is great to see. Sunshine and few showers have allowed good harvest progress. Grain moisture is surprisingly low so there is little drying to be done at present and, after a slow start due to breakdowns, we are at last catching up thanks to an extra hired in New Holland TX combine.

An early finish is needed as we leave for Australia in October. One sight I doubt we will see out there is a family of wild ducks swimming along the tramline ahead of the combine, as I did here earlier this harvest.

Grain quality in this part of Cheshire is down, prolonged wet weather taking its toll on Hagbergs. However, malting quality of spring barley looks promising.

A legacy of our disastrous experience with liquid fertilisers is still haunting us. Any wheat crop after potatoes which received the liquid treatment has not performed. In fact, I would go as far as to say they are the worst yields we have ever had. This year we have used a quality compound on all our crops and they all look much better for it.

A month ago we cleared out the last of our potatoes from the cold stores, giving them away to local dairy farmers. I have never given produce away before and it hurts. Local growers tell me prospects for this season look as bad as last year with prices as low as £35/t ex field. I shall miss growing potatoes, but I wont miss working for nothing. We had some great times with potatoes; great fun and great returns. But sadly those days are over. Gone are the days of bulkers lined up and down the drive waiting to be loaded out of store with a telescopic loading shovel. Loading five bulkers before lunch on a Sunday, that was fun.

Not a lot to report on in Western Australia this month though grain prices are rising: lupins reaching the equivalent of £100/t, canola £200/t and noodle wheat £120/t. &#42

I bet we dont get ducks swimming down the tramlines in Australia, says Ian Crawford.

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Ian Crawford

12 July 2002

Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford grows packing

potatoes, milling wheat and

beans on 324ha (800 acres)

of rented land from Swiss

Cottage Farm, Carrington,

Cheshire and owns and

runs 2000ha (5000 acres)

of mainly arable land in

Western Australia

HAYMAKING is in full swing here in Cheshire and, true to form, we have had no sunshine or drying winds. Many crops have been round-baled and wrapped, either that or ruined.

Combinable crops and potatoes have slowed their growth due to unseasonably low temperatures. I cant remember a colder June and early July. Such weather benefits no one and we desperately need sunshine to accelerate growth and bring on harvest.

Trying to dispose of the last few tonnes of cereals out of the store is a demoralising operation due to little demand and prices that have not been seen for 20 years. As for potatoes, many loads are going now out at £20/t, the lowest figure I can ever remember.

A trip round any supermarket is a huge eye opener. Punnets of so-called new potatoes retail at the equivalent of over £1000/t and frozen chips at £3000/t! What is more, shoppers do not mind paying that price.

I know of one large potato grower who is giving his potatoes away free to anyone who brings transport to his cold stores. What a sad state of affairs.

Yet, farmers in this area are still falling over themselves to take on extra land.

The success stories in this area are the "diversifiers" – those using on-farm facilities to accommodate semi-industrial processes, storage, composting, or recycling etc. The good news is that land agents are finally coming to terms with the fact they cant have any extra rent if these activities take place.

Categorising and getting ready for our farm sale is proving to be a huge job, but keeping everyone busy. In the 50 years our family have been farming in this area even I was surprised as to what we have accumulated.

Meanwhile, 2.5cm (1in) of rain in Western Australia has put crops in good stead. Hay demand there has increased unexpectedly with over 200t of orders/week. Hope-fully that will empty the storage sheds before this years new crop. &#42

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Ian Crawford

17 May 2002

Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford grows packing

potatoes, milling wheat and

beans on 324ha (800 acres)

of rented land from Swiss

Cottage Farm, Carrington,

Cheshire and owns and

runs 2000ha (5000 acres)

of mainly arable land in

Western Australia

RAIN has arrived here in Western Australia and there is much activity in the "paddocks", daily showers producing ideal conditions, in contrast to last years dust.

Our spray contractor is applying 0.8 litres/ha of Roundup (glyphosate) plus 1.1 litres/ha of atrazine to canola ground, while in the lupin paddocks we are using 1kg/ha of simazine plus 0.8 litres/ha of Roundup. It is good to see weeds germinate before planting so we can get them out of the way to start with.

We have changed to a hybrid canola this year, costing A$4.75/kg (£1.76/kg) as opposed to $3.00/kg (£1.11/kg) last year. The new strains are capable of producing 49% oil, which seems unbelievable compared with the old varietys 41%, but I know my neighbour achieved that last year.

We are having to buy our first lot of Australian machinery for the coming seasons hay crop and are collecting quotes on a 13ft rotary mower conditioner at present. It is so important with hay to mow fast at the optimum time to maintain colour and quality. Prospective buyers buy by eye and if hay is bright green then that is half the battle. A days delay can make all the difference with hay making whereas seeding or combining can wait a week here without making much difference.

Back in the UK potato grading out of store and field continues. What a season it has been – the worst I can ever remember. But it has cured me of my addiction to selling potatoes below the cost of production. Living in hope of a good potato year is no longer a sound strategy. We will never store another potato – the cost and risk is just too great. A brilliant article a month a go in FW (Arable, Apr 19) slammed home the facts of potato production. In field over-wintering is a fantastic concept and we will do more having been pleased with the results. Unfortunately, only our peat soils are suitable for windrowing. &#42

We will never store another potato, says Cheshire based grower Ian Crawford – except in field windrows. The cost and the risk are just too great.

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Ian Crawford

1 February 2002

Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford farms 570ha

(1425 acres) of rented

ground from Ashley Hall,

Altrincham, Cheshire,

growing crisping and

pre-pack potatoes, milling

wheat, oilseed rape and

beans. He also owns and

manages 2000ha (5000

acres) of mainly arable

land in Australia

RAIN beating against the office window is quite a contrast to the blue skies and 25C I was enjoying just a few days ago in Australia.

That said, good progress has been made here, drilling winter wheat most days. We will switch to spring wheat as we go into February.

Disappointing potato prices slowed our out-loading last week. It seems everybody is desperate to sell. Local growers are accepting any offers just to clear stores, but prices will not cover their costs let alone leave a profit. The good news is that Europe looks short – a chat with an old mate in Emmeloord, Holland, last week cheered me up no end. He tells me his neighbours have few, if any, stocks left.

Terminating our tenancies here in the UK is proving to be a nightmare. We did not envisage such a lengthy and complex process sorting out tenants investments. The lesson is that improving somebody elses property is fraught with danger.

The plough hit a submerged "bog oak" recently, breaking the casting supporting the lower link arms on the CAT. Ford, which makes the backend of our model of CAT, quoted £700 for a replacement – outrageous. But Caterpillar, via Claas, charged less than £350!

Changing weather patterns means we get machines stuck here more and more these days. We have had four tractors chained in line to extract a trailer of potatoes sunk up to its body. A dry summer is desperately needed to crack the ground and get the structure back. But it is not only our machines that we are getting stuck with. Every week we have several cars dumped around the farm; the price of scrap must be on the floor.

Things are quiet in Australia with everything harvested and delivered except hay, which is still in store. Not a bad year at all thanks to rising commodity prices and land prices up too. No wonder our phone keeps ringing with other UK farmers asking "should we go and have a look?". &#42

Different manufacturers prices on replacement parts for the CAT are quite a contrast, says Ian Crawford.

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Ian Crawford

21 December 2001

Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford farms 570ha

(1425 acres) of rented

ground from Ashley Hall,

Altrincham, Cheshire,

growing crisping and

pre-pack potatoes, milling

wheat, oilseed rape and

beans. He also owns and

manages 2000ha (5000

acres) of mainly arable

land in Australia

THE combines are in the wheat with dust everywhere. As you have probably guessed, I am back in Australia.

Harvest progress has been slow due to the unusually cool weather – a very pleasant 20C (68F) instead of the 30C (86F) norm at this time of year. The odd light shower delayed things by about a week and as there isnt a grain dryer within 500 miles, patience is the watchword.

Until we get weight tickets back, it is difficult to determine what the final yield will be, but I estimate 3.1-3.7t/ha (25-30cwt/acre) for the noodle wheat which today is trading at A$300/t, about £108/t.

Since arriving here, we have received a steady stream of UK farming visitors. Some seriously looking at Australia as a future, some just inquisitive.

Without exception they ask: "You only get just over 1t/acre. How can that pay?" They cannot get their heads around the fact that Australia can produce wheat cheaper than the UK and in a global market cost/t is what it is all about.

We have just bought our first Australian machinery – a grain bin and a mobile auger.

The bin is a 45-50t circular mobile field bin with its own large discharge auger. Combines work round it emptying into the bin then the pocket road train fills up at one go from this. The 15m x 23cm (50ftx 9in) mobile grain auger is to fill the seed silos around the farm.

Our car hit a kangaroo the other night leaving everybody a little shaken but not hurt, which is more than I can say for the car. What a mess! I only hope the insurance will put things right.

Back in the UK, I am told the weather, like the demand for potatoes, is not good. Poor quality is still depressing prices, hopefully only for the short term. It is a long time until next seasons new crop and anything can happen with potato storage – and usually does.

Got to go because we cant keep the combines waiting. Happy Christmas. &#42

Harvest is in full swing in Australia, where wheat yields are about average, says Ian Crawford.

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Ian Crawford

26 October 2001

Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford farms 570ha

(1425 acres) of rented

ground from Ashley Hall,

Altrincham, Cheshire,

growing crisping and

pre-pack potatoes, milling

wheat, oilseed rape and

beans. He also owns and

manages 2000ha (5000

acres) of mainly arable

land in Australia

WE are off, emigrating to Western Australia next November; the pull of that great southern land is too much to resist.

It has been on the cards for many years and we all realise that now is the time. We will retain 320ha (800 acres) here, growing 80ha (200 acres) of pre-pack or chipping potatoes and 200ha (500 acres) of milling wheat plus industrial set-aside. A simplified system on our better soils that should ease harvest and management. We will return for harvest then go back to Australia for harvest there, just as I do now. The staff here seem to make a better job when Im away so Im confident they will do well without me most of the time.

Harvest progress is better than last year despite rain nearly every day. Thanks to a harvester with hydraulic driven axles, terra tyres and a Caterpillar up front we have not stopped lifting potatoes. Years ago we lifted difficult land first but these days it seems we always start on light land – nowhere else is dry enough to walk on never mind harvest. I can remember buying dust masks and goggles for the pickers it used to be so dusty. How the seasons have changed!

The last wheat has just gone through the mobile drier and I wonder how we ever managed without it. It never ceases to amaze me with its cleaning and drying capacity, operating continuously in Automode, batch after batch with little or no supervision.

I shall not mention the British Potato Council again. I wash my hands of it completely. I am flabbergasted that its levy rates are to increase. If my or your income is reduced, for whatever reason, we cut our cloth accordingly. But not the BPC. It must keep up expenditure no matter what and raises the amount we growers must pay them. Madness. When will farmers wake up and see we are being taken for a ride? The sooner we get to vote them out, the better. &#42

Ian Crawford is pushing on with the potato harvest at Ashley Hall, Cheshire, but heavy land is impassable and still to be tackled.

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