31 August 2001

EASTON LODGE

No holiday break now

THE relentless grind of harvest drags on. Our finishing date last year was Aug 25 enabling farm staff to have one day off over the bank holiday weekend. But, as I write this report waiting for the evening damp to burn off, we still have 45ha (110 acres) to cut.

We have been burning a lot of midnight oil in an effort to catch up having been delayed by bad weather and niggling combine breakdowns. Neither has our rate of progress been improved by the pea harvest being spread over six days. "The pea harvest from hell" is how I describe it.

The peas were not just flat but compressed into the ground by rain, pigeons and crows. And of course the ground was wet which meant that the combine header acted like a bulldozer blade. In desperation we removed the skids from beneath the header and angled the crop lifters as far down as possible, but even then we were leaving a great many peas behind.

One direction only

As in previous years, we were able to cut the crop only in one direction and once again this was only possible across the tramlines. Next year, we must drill the peas in the direction of the prevailing wind. But that is not always possible on some of our narrow fields.

Consequently, our pea yield is disappointing at an estimated 3.2t/ha (1.3t/acre). That compares with our five-year average of 4.1t/ha (1.7t/acre) and will do little to enhance the overall farm gross margin.

On Aug 17 we moved into perhaps the best-looking field of Malacca on the farm. Farm foreman David Cham, sandwich year student Will Clark, and I had a small wager as to our best crop of wheat. Will Clark chose the field of Malacca we combined first, while David and I favoured a field of Claire. Im afraid depth of experience and superior knowledge failed miserably. Although we will not know the best field of wheat until we have finished combining, we do know that it was not the Claire. I hope Will is as lucky when he takes his driving test later this month.

Variable yields

The yields to date have been very variable. Malacca has ranged between 9t/ha (3.6t/acre) for the field aforementioned down to 6.6t/ha (2.7t/acre) and the Claire a disappointing 7.4t/ha (3t/acre). Most of the latter has now moved off farm on feed contracts at £75/t to make room for milling wheat which we will hold over until next year.

Land work is progressing slowly when harvesting, baling and bale carting will allow. So far we have managed two passes with the disc harrows on barley and oilseed rape stubbles and have subsoiled the land after peas.

Now the straw has been cleared off the wheat stubble we will be able to press on with the seed-bed preparation for oilseed rape. Most of the 32ha (79 acres) destined for rape will be home-saved Fortress but a 4ha (10 acres) area will be sown with Recital as new bought-in seed.

Varieties of wheat for next year will be chosen from three seed stocks grown from C1 seed last year. Those are Malacca, Marshall and Claire; all have performed equally well to yield about 7t/ha (2.8t/acre) sown late after sugar beet on Jan 26 at a seed rate of 100kg/ha. All are good clean bright samples. Testing of these will take place at NIAB before a final decision is made but I suspect that we shall once again major with the variety Malacca. We are still unaware of the quality of the milling wheats harvested so far.

It is perhaps unwise to have lumped together all our Malacca in one heap, particularly since yield and visual appearance seemed to differ. But until we have tested for Hagberg Falling Number, protein and specific weight, we will remain in the dark.

Our storage facilities have already been stretched to the limit by having to separate Malacca from Abbot and Claire as well as holding both malting barley and seed peas in store. Next year I hope to move the barley at harvest albeit at a depressed price to provide more flexibility.

Certainly in a wet harvest it is important to keep early and late combined milling wheat separate. After all, there can be a differential at stake of up to £15/t. &#42