19 January 2001

Large or small, the weather hits em all

IT is not just growers with big areas to plant who were caught out by last autumns atrocious weather, many smaller farmers have been hit too.

While the total area affected is not so big, the importance to their businesses is equally great.

One such is David Harrison, of Little Omenden Farm, near Biddenden, in Kent. He planned to drill 35ha (88 acres) with winter crops this year on the family owned farm. At the end of last week he had only 8ha (20 acres) sown.

"We were hoping to start drilling in early September, but then we were let down with the seed and it came too wet to drill."

With the heavy grade 3 weald clay saturated, he has now given up any hope of establishing winter crops. But the seed order was cancelled because of the delay, so at least he is not stuck with much seed on the farm.

Some ground may dry enough for spring oilseed rape or linseed to go in, but it is almost certain that over 50% will be in set-aside now, he says. "I am drafting my letter to MAFF at the moment."

One particularly tricky issue could be a field that was in set-aside. That was ploughed out ready for wheat, but did not get drilled due the seed delay and then rain.

"I am hoping we can make a go of getting a crop on it, as there is probably an eligibility problem with it going back into set-aside. I have not been able to get an answer on that yet."

The planned Lexus (flupyrsulfuron-methyl) will struggle, he fears.

What effect the autumn will have on the bottom line of the business Mr Harrison has not calculated yet. "We only just broke even last year, and this year is sure to be worse than that."

First time off-farm work this winter could prove even more valuable than expected, he says. &#42

Just what on earth am I meant to do with this? asks Kent Grower David Harrison. This field after spring oilseed rape was busted, then turned to a pudding before it could be drilled. Even on the 8ha that is sown blackgrass is getting beyond control (inset).

Coping with crisis

Mr Harrison questions how MAFF will cope with a crisis like this when the number of service centres has been cut. "I suspect they would find it very difficult. As it is you never speak to the same person twice and they are drafting in casual staff who do not have the answers you need."


&#8226 Only 8 of 35ha drilled.

&#8226 Sodden Weald clay.

&#8226 Spring OSR or linseed only options.

&#8226 Off-farm income a godsend.