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Mike Cumming

6 November 1998

Mike Cumming

Mike Cumming is manager at

Lour Farms, Ladenford,

Forfar, Angus, where spring

malting barley and seed

potatoes occupy about half

the 749ha (1850 acres).

Other crops include winter

wheat, barley and oats,

oilseed rape, swedes

and grass

THE wet October has allowed time for harvest reflection. Spring barley looks like averaging 5.6t/ha (2.26 t/acre) with 93% of the 1600t produced sold for malting. Chariot averaged 5.83t/ha (2.36 t/acre), Landlord 5.78t/ha (2.34t/acre) and Prisma 4.9t/ha (2.0 t/acre).

Yet again Chariot performed well during a wet summer with no splitting. By contrast Prismas yield penalty and high fungicide costs of £35/ha (£14/acre), double that of the others, dictates a lower area next spring.

Estimated nitrogen, averaged across the total tonnage, will be 1.64%, compared to our normal 1.60%. Overall I expect to average £85/t, with the boldest Prisma making £97/t. A better spring barley picture than we anticipated.

This year analysis results for each load of malting barley delivered to Scotgrain, our main merchant, were e-mailed to me daily. Such prompt information flows within the industry are very useful and I suggest that this is an area where HGCA funding could usefully be deployed. However, given that we contribute £1100 of levy annually without any direct feedback to the farmfrom the HGCA, suggest funds are directed to better communications within the industry is something of a paradox.

On farm wheat trials carried out by DuPont seem to confirm my own thoughts that strobilurins need very careful management in our climate. Results show triazole plots yielding 9.7t/ha (3.9t/acre) at 72% lodging, whereas the strob trials yielded 11t/ha (4.5t/acre) at 88% lodging.

In Sept we drilled 154ha (380 acres) of autumn cereals, including 40ha (100 acres) of wheat. That is well established but about 60ha (147 acres) of wheat is left to drill after potatoes. I cannot see it all going in as completing potato lifting is now top priority.

At the end of last week we had 13ha (32 acres) left, nearly quarter of our crop. For the first time we will be lifting potatoes in Nov and whether we will ever get finished is anyones guess.

Like all growers we are in uncharted waters this year.

Potato lifting is going to run into November for the first time in Mike Cummings experience at Lour Farms, Angus. But spring barley final analysis has turned out better than expected.

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Mike Cumming

22 May 1998

Mike Cumming

Mike Cumming is manager

at Lour Farms, Ladenford,

Forfar, Angus, where spring

malting barley and seed

potatoes occupy about half

the 749ha (1850 acres). Other

crops include winter wheat,

barley and oats, oilseed

rape, swedes and grass

MY concerns last month about the effects the rain and frost would have on our oilseed rape proved unfounded. I underestimated the power of rape to overcome adversity. The crop is now in full flower and making an amazing recovery.

I had intended to pare costs by omitting a mid-flowering spray. But due to the amount of damaged tissue I decided to apply Compass (iprodione + thiophanate-methyl) at 2 litres/ha.

The spring barley picture is not so rosy. In fact it looks awful, the worst I have seen for seven years. The fields sown in early March, which emerged during mid-Aprils 120mm (5in) of rain, look acceptable.

But fields where the grain had sprouted and not appeared suffered far more. I think it was the sharp frosts acting on waterlogged soils that did the damage. Fields with hollows are certainly the worst affected. Uneven germination, drowned patches and yellowing is the order of the day in my corner of Angus.

The extreme weather has also highlighted the effect of compaction while drilling. Fields drilled with a 3m (9.8ft) combination unit look far better than those where establishment followed a conventional two pass power harrow/pneumatic drill routine. Every wheel mark is evident in the latter.

I spent many hours evaluating different establishment systems over the past year, but delayed any decisions for several reasons. But I now think I will have to make changes before next spring. Current grain prices focus the mind to the fact that each acre must work as hard as possible. Our present system is fast, but compromises germination and this can no longer be tolerated.

Potato planting finally got under way on Apr 29 and with a good steady spell of weather and ground conditions better than expected was set to be completed by May 18. The 60ha (150 acres) is made up of 13 different varieties comprising 24 separate crops. About half the area is grown on contract. &#42

Ground conditions for spud planting have been better than expected, says Mike Cumming. But elsewhere compaction has been a problem.

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Mike Cumming

27 March 1998

Mike Cumming

Mike Cumming is manager

at Lour Farms, Ladenford,

Forfar, Angus, where spring

malting barley and seed

potatoes occupy about half

the 749ha (1850 acres).

Other crops include winter

wheat, barley and oats,

oilseed rape, swedes and

grass

Mike Cumming is manager

at Lour Farms, Ladenford,

Forfar, Angus, where spring

malting barley and seed

potatoes occupy about half

the 749ha (1850 acres).

Other crops include winter

wheat, barley and oats,

oilseed rape, swedes and

grass

SINCE last writing we have virtually caught up with the ploughing. This is thanks to a determined effort from all concerned, before wintry weather in early March sent the staff to the potato store.

Their retreat indoors was no bad thing, as the list of seed potato orders to grade was frightening.

Potato contracts for the 1998 crop are now being discussed, with further price reductions coupled, in general, to purchase guarantees on the first 25t/ha of seed only.

We specialise in seed production. But where is the incentive to improve product quality when current contract terms increase grower risks for smaller returns? That simply encourages production of dual purpose crops.

Regarding quality improvements I focus on skin finish. It now seems skin finish is God. I blame agronomists not involved in trading for this situation.

Many, but not all, of this species spend the summer inspecting stocks and making encouraging noises. These rise to howls of delight as harvest approaches. But if skin finish is not perfect at grading, all that goes by the way and the stock is no longer required.

Replacement stock that looks like a small pre-pack ware sample is located, despite its probably never having been seen during the growing season.

I can see why. After all they have led the customer to expect such a sample and it becomes the driving factor outweighing other equally important health issues.

Agronomists have a role to play as advisers. But they need to tame the scientific approach and consider all aspects of plant health collectively.

As regards cereals, spring barley drilling kicked off this week with Chariot sown at 215kg/ha based on a target population of 350 plants/sq m. Having found wheat bulb fly larvae in some crops all wheat after potatoes will now get 1.5 litres/ha of dimethoate. &#42

Seed potato contracts are causing concern for Scotlands Mike Cumming. Growers bear too much risk and agronomists wield too much power when it comes to skin finish, he maintains.

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Mike Cumming

30 January 1998

Mike Cumming

Mike Cumming is manager

at Lour Farms, Ladenford,

Forfar, Angus, where

spring malting barley and

seed potatoes occupy about

half the 749ha (1850

acres). Other crops

include winter wheat,

barley and oats, oilseed

rape, swedes and grass

THE last 75t of wheat should be loaded this week to make room for fertiliser deliveries and dressing home-saved spring barley seed.

Chariot will dominate the acreage, having consistently out-yielded Prisma by 0.74t/ha (0.3t/acre) since 1995, while costing £20/ha (£8/acre) less to keep clean.

This years fertiliser order has provided the first bit of cheer for many months with the bill around £12,000 less than 1997 based on the same tonnage.

The current wheat crop awaits preventative spraying to counter the likelihood of wheat bulb fly attack on fields after potatoes. Tests revealed 3 million eggs/ha but the land is too wet at present to travel. We have yet to venture onto the ground at all this year but with potato grading in full swing I am not too concerned.

Seed grading has not followed the normal pattern to date with uncontrolled varieties such as Desiree and Maris Piper trading vigorously. In line with many other growers, we are virtually sold out.

Controlled varieties are a different matter with grading instructions, although picking up, generally slow to appear. It seems buyers of controlled variety seed are hanging back hoping for a price fall in the spring as happened in 1997.

If that is the case, then buyers should be aware that no seed producer, due to pressures including quality control and SOAFD regulations, can squeeze the bulk of his grading into a three week period.

Bearing in mind grading constraints, the small tonnage of uncontrolled seed still available and the 11% reduction in availability of all seed compared to 1997, I cannot see any reduction in the price of controlled seed this spring. In fact, buyers placing late spring orders are unlikely to save anything but could face the hassle of delayed planting.

Cereal management remains a priority at Lour Farms even though potato grading is in full swing. Mike Cumming is waiting to spray wheat to protect against wheat bulb fly attack and to dress spring barley seed.

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Mike Cumming

2 January 1998

Mike Cumming

Mike Cumming is manager

at Lour Farms, Ladenford,

Forfar, Angus, where spring

malting barley and seed

potatoes occupy about half

the 749ha (1850 acres).

Other crops include winter

wheat, barley and oats,

oilseed rape, swedes

and grass

SINCE last writing no field work has taken place apart from spreading muck onto next years potato land and ploughing it down.

Recent crop walking has shown that the Gerald winter oats have some mildew, but the weather conditions and time of year mean treatment will not now happen for a while.

Two fields showing large yield variations have recently been sampled using GPS positioning technology. One field, a frustrating 22ha (55acres) which was five different fields thirty years ago, has a patch in a pocket of fertile, predictable land. I suspect pH variations across the fields are the problem, but time will tell.

Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of lime spreading equipment that can dovetail with precision farming at present. This needs to be rectified soon, as I am sure pH variations will be the largest factor identified by such techniques in Scotland.

December saw 450t of wheat with 69.8kg/hl average specific weight taken up by two national merchants. Neither supplies weight slips unless pushed to do so. How any farmer can accept payment without a weight slip is beyond me. Mistakes can and do happen.

We pay for weighing the grain, so the slip belongs to the farmer. Farmer complacency has led to a situation where national merchants charge for weighing grain, then pay the farmer without supplying legal evidence of weight or analysis. This must stop.

I insist on weight slips for every tonne of grain and I urge others to do the same. After asking for slips relating to 100t of the above wheat I found that bushel weight deductions of over £200 were made for two loads when no specific weights were shown on the weight slips. I have asked for this to be repaid and will keep you informed.

I demonstrate accountability to the merchant trade through membership of SQC. Surely I should not have to chase legal evidence of tonnages sold – it is mine by right.

Dont let grain revenues slip through your fingers just because merchants refuse to provide weighbridge slips, urges Mike Cumming.

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Mike Cumming

5 December 1997

Mike Cumming

Mike Cumming is manager

at Lour Farms, Ladenford,

Forfar, Angus, where spring

malting barley and seed

potatoes occupy about half

the 749ha (1850 acres).

Other crops include winter

wheat, barley and oats,

oilseed rape, swedes and

grass

RAIN, rain for two solid weeks. Fortunately, most of the winter weed spraying was complete before the weather broke.

Standard treatment for the barley and wheat was 1.25-1.5 litre/ha of Javelin Gold (DFF + IPU), plus 0.5-0.75 litre/ha of Duplosan (mecoprop-p) depending on weed pressure – or should I say spring rape pressure.

Spring rape has been dropped from the rotation after ruining a Synergy crop last year with volunteers from three years previous. It seems we grew spring rape for three years but will suffer the consequences for many. One field sown to stubble rape for sheep this autumn has been covered in flowering spring rape for several weeks. Be warned, spring rape volunteers are a nightmare.

The wet weather neatly coincided with the start of potato grading which is still on-going. Although business is slow, three varieties are trading much better than last year. All my Desiree SE2 is sold, plus as much Maris Piper as I wish to trade at this time. We chalked up a first last week with a load of Desiree exported to Israel.

Talking about exports, I listened to Lord Sewel at the Crops Scottish conference this week. He was outlining his thoughts for the arable sector and talked about golden opportunities ahead for UK farmers. Freed from government interference, controls and bureaucracy we will be able to export competitively on world markets fuelled by new discovered efficiency, he said.

Such increased efficiency will seemingly result from reduced agricultural support which will have the added bonus of allowing new entrants to the industry. Puzzled that this doesnt make sense? So were we. But question time was a farce.

The minister took all the questions first, then chose about three to answer. On a well-timed nod from his secretary he shot out of the hall faster than a Formula One donation from a Labour Party account. Thats politics.n

Spring rape volunteers emerging and flowering in this years winter rape crop remain a problem for Scottish farmer Mike Cumming.

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