2 November 2001

Little luck & maize OK…

WE have been lucky with our maize crop, writes Tim Green. Despite a late start and some difficult seed-beds we still achieved average yields. Although the crop was harvested in three stages, we enjoyed perfect weather on each occasion.

Some neighbours were not so fortunate and suffered rain but it helped to wash the clamp concrete. The only hitch was a late start in the evening for the final cut which meant we had to complete harvesting the following day. The delay was caused by a student working for our contractor who managed to tip his brand new, state-of-the-art, trailer into a roadside ditch while fully loaded.

Since most French tractors do not have a pick-up hitch, simply a stud, the accident would have over turned the tractor as well as the trailer. Fortunately, it sheared off neatly, leaving the tractor upright. Paradoxically it is legal for a farm student to drive a 140hp tractor with a monster trailer but non-farmers and their workers require a HGV licence to drive any size of tractor on the road.

Shared picking

So a train-driver friend, with whom we share apple picking, cannot legally drive his own 30hp tractor and trailer of apples to the factory. Stranger still, he has an HGV licence but, as he had not had the required annual medical, it was not up to date.

This years cider apple crop looks good however some trees have no fruit. That can usually be explained by frost conditions affecting flowering in the spring but this year there were no late frosts. In the past, we have had just enough apples for our own cider but this year, with extra land, we have some to sell.

Our landlord has kept some land with apple trees and we share the work between Vimer, the landlord, and our mutual train-driving friend. He knocked most of the apples off the trees and picked while I picked and delivered the crop. Although its not the most profitable days work, it is rewarding in other ways.

We chose a fine day to pick apples and quenched our thirst with the fruits of our labour, plus excellent cow beefsteaks on the barbecue. And it enabled me to get our name back on the producers list at the co-operative. Not having delivered apples for some years, the system has changed and its becoming more difficult to sell apples without a registered orchard, which Vimer does not have. But with our extra land we gained a registration number and so the 3t of apples in my name keep us in the frame. Today you have to be registered for everything and we do our best to keep all options open.

Delivery date

The price for 1t is about £68, less £1.30p for levies and taxes, and is paid within three weeks. Before any payment you have to jump the hurdle of obtaining a delivery date which requires about a weeks notice. Growers also need a laissez-passez, which literally means let it pass. Its an official paper stating the date, time and mode of transport along with addresses of departure and arrival. This document is used by customs and excise to help it keep tabs on fruit delivered for alcohol. Not many years ago we had to undertake the same performance before delivering cereals or other farm produce. Fortunately, that has been stopped. I assume any load stopped without the relevant paperwork could be confiscated.

The price for pears is usually about £40/t when apples are at £68 and they weigh more heavily. After the devastating Boxing Day storms of 1999, they are now share the same price as apples in an attempt to encourage people to deliver them. Also factories are less finicky about the quality compared with the pre-storm surplus years.

Glorious weather recently has resulted in the grassiest autumn since our arrival in France 18 years ago. So we are still enjoying the luxury of keeping the cows outside night and day.

Back to Suffolks

The ewes are looking well and the tups arrived at the end of last month. This year we are moving away from the Dutch Texel and back to the Suffolk. Three have been supplied by the producer group at £220 apiece. They look good animals and are certainly far better value than some of the subjects sold at the first ever auction sale of sheep at our nearest market. More than 140 sheep, of all categories, were sold with prices of about £75 to £90 for lean tups of indiscriminate and indefinable breeding.

Good slaughter ewes made up to £40 while the best lambs reached £75 each.

The best lambs were purchased by our producer group which is working in association with the auction. Until recently we were obliged to sell all our sheep through the group, but now we can use the mart if we pay a levy of £1.50 to the group.

It will be interesting to see how mart sales develop as the system could be a useful outlet for some categories of sheep. &#42