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John Jeffrey

6 September 2002

John Jeffrey

John Jeffrey runs two

tenanted farms in

partnership with his father

from Kersknowe, near Kelso

in the Scottish Borders.

Two-thirds of the 730ha

(1800 acres) is arable,

growing seed potatoes, oilseed rape, wheat and

winter and spring barley

INCREDIBLY, by the last day in August, we had started lifting potatoes and grain harvest was almost a thing of the past with only 50ha (120 acres) of wheat left to combine. Also, all next years oilseed rape is already through the ground.

Not only is it this early but after the wettest summer on record the grain has never been drier. A nearby farmer who is on his third harvest since leaving college says it is the first time he has ever combined wheat below 20% moisture!

Harvest has been a joy provided you forget about the end price. Quality of the wheat will not be known until after I dry and dress it, which should help to increase protein and specific weights. Chariot malting barley was all under 1.5% nitrogen with acceptable screenings but Optic has nitrogens all over the place and I darent mention the levels of screenings. Oilseed rape amazed us by yielding as well as it looked, averaging over 3.7t/ha (1.5t/acre).

My combine driving continues to be a source of great amusement to my neighbours as two phone calls illustrate. The first came as I failed to climb a steep hill, prompting howls of laughter and expletives down the line; what a useless combine I had bought if it couldnt even manage such a gentle slope.

Two hours later, as I groveled in the guts of the combine having blocked it up good and proper, my mobile rang again. This time I didnt give them the pleasure of answering it as I could see who was calling.

But revenge is sweet and came sooner than I could have hoped for. The very next day I was chuckling as I watched them pulling their combine out of a wet hole with a hired winch. As the saying goes "he who laughs last laughs loudest". Unfortunately, that will still be them, as I have managed to wrap a divider around a gate post and redesigned the back-end of the combine, not that theyve noticed yet. &#42

Grain has never been drier, says John Jeffrey, following better weather in the Borders.

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John Jeffrey

12 July 2002

John Jeffrey

John Jeffrey runs two

tenanted farms in

partnership with his father

from Kersknowe, near

Kelso in the Scottish

Borders. Two-thirds of the

730ha (1800 acres) is

arable, growing seed

potatoes, oilseed rape,

wheat and winter and spring barley

NOT much has changed in the past month. The sun has still not made its brief summer visit and surprise, surprise, it is still raining. It is going to be a late harvest, which is maybe just as well because the new combine has still not materialised.

However, the crows do not seem concerned about that as they are attacking the winter barley with a vengeance.

Last year, I cockily predicted I had beaten them by growing only six-row barley which is apparently unpalatable to our feathered foes. Unfortunately, the new variety, Siberia, seems designed especially for them as they happily munch their way up the field.

What is worse they are starting to make fun of me. As soon as I get within gunshot range, which I have to admit is not very far, they up and off to the silage aftermath. When I approach that they head for the turnips and when I get there, theyre back to the barley.

Who said crows are stupid? I swear I can hear them laughing at me every time they take off!

Potatoes are blossoming and even they need no more rain until harvest. Every paper you read at present has some potato boffin predicting a glut and rock bottom prices. Have none of these experts heard of PR and marketing or, as Mr Blairs advisers would say, "spin"?

We are just completing our submission to the Scottish Executive on the Draft Agricultural Holdings Bill. This is a piece of legislation that is integral to the survival of the tenanted sector in Scotland but unfortunately it has been hijacked by the right-to-buy campaign.

The easiest way to ensure a vibrant tenanted sector – our ministers expressed intention – is to relate rents directly to farm income. If farm income is poor then rents are low. When returns are good then rent is high.

An easy solution which is both simple and fair. Unfortunately, it is probably too simplistic for our Scottish Parliament judging by its previous actions. &#42

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John Jeffrey

17 May 2002

John Jeffrey

John Jeffrey runs two

tenanted farms in

partnership with his father

from Kersknowe, near Kelso

in the Scottish Borders.

Two-thirds of the 730ha

(1800 acres) is arable,

growing seed potatoes, oilseed rape, wheat and

winter and spring barley

AFTER the trials and tribulations of last year this spring has been an absolute pleasure.

Winter crops are all lush, spring cereals are catching up, weve had a good calving with plenty of grass and the potato drills are gunshot straight – well, as straight as my shooting! The whole countryside looks splendid. As father says, it always looks best at this time of year when its wearing a new set of clothes.

With planting finished, cattle out to grass and IACS completed I should be able to head for the golf course happy in the knowledge that everything is looking well and Im lucky to be in such a great profession. Unfortunately, when I get into the office reality kicks in. No matter what figures I feed in to the budgets they all have a negative end result.

Forward prices of nearly all commodities are at an all time low so it seems inconceivable that anyone would want to farm. Yet land prices keep rising. It beats me.

The completion of potato planting heralded the end of an era as the farm steward retired after a lifetimes dedication here at Kersknowe. His value to the farm over the years cannot be overstated and it is a question if his type will ever be seen again. Even after his retirement, the average age of the farm staff is the wrong side of 50 and I am actually the youngest on the place. There is a dearth of young people on farms nowadays with contractors in vogue. But, if we are to keep traditional agricultural skills, then experienced staff such as our retired steward are needed to pass those skills on to the next generation. It would be sad to skill totally replaced by machinery and brute force.

Once upon a time, farm work was a way of life. Now, it is seen purely as an occupation and with moderate wage and mixed working conditions. Who can blame youngsters for heading for the sanctuary of a factory job? &#42

The youngest man on the farm – thats now John Jeffrey.

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John Jeffrey

21 December 2001

John Jeffrey

John Jeffrey runs two

tenanted farms in

partnership with his father

from Kersknowe, near Kelso

in the Scottish Borders.

Two-thirds of the 730ha

(1800 acres) is arable,

growing seed potatoes, oilseed rape, wheat and

winter and spring barley

I HAVE had to cancel my end of year review with Scrooge because my Christmas card from SEERAD, containing my arable area aid payment, has not arrived.

As this amount was included in my November budget I will now have to forego the annual mince pies and coffee (it used to be drams) with the bank manager in an effort to avoid explaining my hopelessly awry cashflow forecast.

In these days of modern technology, it is ironic that it is precisely that – the computer software -which is getting the blame for the delay in payments.

This delay, possibly until the end of January, will cost me about £1000 in interest payments alone. I have no claim against them for late payment, but it would be a different story if I was the one owing them money.

The recent grand spell of weather has enabled everyone locally to catch up with work and it looks as if most of the ploughing will be complete by Christmas. Most of the time then is taken up with winter maintenance and bedding cattle closes, which brings to mind this winters tale Ive been told.

A local semi-retired farmer has been continually nagging his son, as fathers do, about not cleaning up the combine after harvest. Eventually, the son decided to clean the combine and to ensure a thorough job he removed all the sieves to power wash them and placed them against the farm wall to dry overnight.

The next day, when bedding down cattle with the forklift, the father reversed over the sieves, writing them all off. The dust has not yet settled from the family explosion that followed.

However, because it is the season of goodwill, the neighbours name shall remain anonymous.

My golfing holiday to Florida with three other local farmers under the guise of an educational trip did nothing for my knowledge of weed control or grassland management. But I have returned an expert in aquaculture!

Merry Christmas. &#42

Ploughing should be finished by Christmas, which is more than can be said for SEERADs arable area payment mailings, says John Jeffrey.

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John Jeffrey

26 October 2001

John Jeffrey

John Jeffrey runs two

tenanted farms in

partnership with his father

from Kersknowe, near Kelso

in the Scottish Borders.

Two-thirds of the 730ha

(1800 acres) is arable,

growing seed potatoes, oilseed rape, wheat and

winter and spring barley

HARVEST literally finished on a damper. After Mr Kettleys farming forecast of a good week ahead I decided not to cut my last field of wheat that Sunday afternoon, as the moisture content was 21%.

When I eventually combined it two-and-a-half weeks later it was in the high 20s and half the crop was on the ground. Similarly, spring oilseed rape was salvaged at a higher than desirable moisture content before it all blew away.

Most of next years crop has been "puddled" in and with no herbicide applied due to the winds and no rolling due to the wet there are going to be serious weed and slug problems ahead. The only field left to sow is an old, heavy ley field. I am grazing it bare before my first attempt at direct drilling. Without wishing to be a pessimist, why do I feel another disaster is looming?

The relative cost of modern farming was brought home to me when I had to buy a new top-link for the tractor. It cost the equivalent of 4t of wheat. Not that long ago you could get four top-links for the price of 1t of wheat.

That had a major bearing on my choice of new combine. After demonstrations, I was sold on a Claas. It was a joy to drive and performed to a very high output – nearly as high as my bank managers blood pressure when I told him the price to change. Once he had calmed down we agreed on the more practical option, a New Holland CW 860. The dealer is on my doorstep, I have had them for 20 years and their reliability has been excellent. More importantly it was at a price that none of the other manufacturers could match.

While I was not too disappointed at not getting the combine of my choice, it is a sign of the times that it is the bank manager who chooses the combine and not the farmer. &#42

It is a sign of the times when the bank manager picks the combine, not the farmer, says John Jeffrey.

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John Jeffrey

28 September 2001

John Jeffrey

John Jeffrey runs two

tenanted farms in

partnership with his father

from Kersknowe, near Kelso

in the Scottish Borders.

Two-thirds of the 730ha

(1800 acres) is arable,

growing seed potatoes, oilseed rape, wheat and

winter and spring barley

AS I write we have not combined for 10 days. What happened to the glorious, sunny harvests of yesteryear? Or is time already playing tricks on my senile mind?

Hopefully, by the time you read this the long promised Indian summer will have arrived and the final 20ha (50 acres) of wheat and 50ha (125 acres) of straw will be tidied up. Then all thats left will be spring oilseed rape.

Yields have been disappointing with wheat back 1.2t/ha (0.5t/acre) on last years exceptional crops. Little sunshine during the summer caused these lower yields and had it not been for strobilurins I am sure they would have been much worse.

In my last article I mentioned I was going to trade in two combines for one and expected a rush of demonstrators at my door. They duly arrived but were totally outnumbered by the offers of cheap credit from finance companies desperate for my business. On the whole the combines were mightily impressive, but I was disappointed that a large company that advertised heavily over the summer couldnt supply even one of their dark green machines until the second half of September. The best sales pitch came from Claas which had its grain monitor set to give me yields that I can only ever dream about – the sort which my neighbour always claims to achieve.

Potato harvest is almost complete. Lifted in almost perfect conditions they have come up dry with no bruising and, on the whole, a lovely skin finish. Yield is better than expected and there should be enough to supply the new customers we picked up at Potato 2001 at Newark.

Sep 13 was certainly Black Thursday in my book as I managed to lose a shovel inside the mobile drier, totally choke the buckets in the old drier and knock the doors off my new drier. All three driers out of action in one day is no mean feat, even by my standards. &#42

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John Jeffrey

10 March 2000

John Jeffrey

OUR local competition to create the deepest tramlines has started again.

Scottish Quality Cereals regulations prohibit top-dressing nitrogen before the Ides of February, so the "Whacky Races" start on Feb 16, regardless of weather or ground conditions. This years competition is running to form with the previous winners again well out in front.

Unfortunately, I was left standing at the starting post due to lack of fertiliser. The urea we ordered in July for delivery Nov-Jan arrived on March 1. Payment terms were April 28 so the cheque will now be presented on June 28 – two months late like the delivery. We are now playing catch up, starting with the most backward crops, applying 125kg/ha (100 units/acre) to all winter crops. That is the maximum SQC allow in March.

Two weeks ago our agronomy group, Kelso Grain Consultants, held an open day to look at establishment practices for wheat and oilseed rape. The field-scale trials range from conventional plough, press and combination establishment through to direct drilling. Neither costs nor plant counts were as varied as I expected and the increase in fixed costs to convert to a no-till operation would make it prohibitive, I believe.

The main management issue this spring was which break crop to choose. After exploring all the options I opted for beans as there seems little we can do to influence the end price of any produce. Hence our efforts must be concentrated on reducing input costs and on paper at least, spring beans seem the cheapest crop to grow.

However, on calibrating the drill we discovered, to our horror, that it will not sow beans. Faced with the prospect of a contractors bill, I am now showing an interest in new drills in the hope that somebody will sow them under the premise of a sale. Robbie Burns quote "The best laid schemes o mice an men/Gang aft a-gley" springs to mind. The same could be said for the Scottish rugby team.

"Dyou have a drill that can sow beans?" John Jeffreys spring break crop plans at Kersknowe met with a wee technical hitch recently.

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