16 August 2002

In between the rainfall

EASTON LODGE

ON OUR FARMS

THUNDERSTORMS and outbreaks of heavy rain featured heavily during July with a total of 75.9mm (3in). We had 18 days during the month when rainfall exceeded 0.1mm with the heaviest storms on July 8 and 9 totalling 29.8mm (1.2in) and on the July 30 a further 21.6mm (0.8in) fell.

Fortunately in between the weather was fair and hot enabling us to harvest the oil seed rape and winter barley in good conditions.

We took the view that the oilseed rape was more fit and ready to harvest than the barley this year, certainly the seed was ripe although, without desiccation, the stems were still fairly green.

That in turn resulted in green material bunging up the sieves which required cleaning down every four hours or so. Had the crop been standing more erect instead of leaning over we could have cut less stem, but even with a growth regulator both Fortress and Recital had lodged quite badly.

Moisture content

Moisture content in hindsight was a little on the high side when we started cutting on July 22 at 14% . But after a shower overnight on the first day we held off harvesting for 30 hours and by the time we had finished on the July 25 the moisture had come down to 10.5%.

The total area harvest was 31.83ha (79 acres) of which 87% consisted of Fortress and 4ha (9.9 acres) of Recital as a new variety from which we have saved seed for re-sowing this year.

We calculate that after adjusting to 8.5% moisture we will have harvested in excess of 130t at a yield of 4.1t/ ha (1.6t/acre). All have been sold for harvest movement: 100t was contracted forward last April for £132/t, plus bonuses, and the balance at £138/t, plus bonuses, which was sold last week. This is a delivered price to store in a neighbouring village and has been moved by tractor and trailer with 12t payloads.

It has taken 14 days to dry down the rape seed to a moisture content below 9% due to high humidity since we normally rely on ambient air. However, conditions have deteriorated in early August and we have hired a propane burner to dry the air flow entering the fan thereby doubling the amount of drying time available. This has worked quite well and we are now considering buying a constant humidity control system for next year which will enable us to dry 24hr a day during any weather conditions.

This year we had a total of 35.13ha (87 acres) of Pearl winter barley on a buy-back malting contract. Despite the straw being quite green and there being a number of immature ears in the tramlines we made a start on July 26. The sample coming off the combine tested at 15% moisture so we pressed on finishing the four fields within three days

Yield has varied, the best we estimate to be 8.5t/ha (3.4t/acre) and the worst at 7t/ha (2.8t/acre) to average overall 7.5t/ha (3t/acre). Nitrogen levels have tested between 1.76 and 1.79 and will hopefully command a premium of £8/t over feed. We have agreed with the merchant to move seven loads now which should return at £60/t and give us more flexibility in the grain store now that the weather has turned against us.

Baling barley straw had to be delayed a couple of days due to the aforementioned green stems but we managed to get half wrapped up into small bales for the pig unit before the storm at the end of last month. Unfortunately not all were stacked in heaps when it rained and as a consequence we now have two full loads of partially wet bales not to mention more than 15 ha (37 acres) of even wetter straw still in the swath.

We had no sooner moved the straw with the tedder then we had a monumental thunderstorm last week amounting to 41.7mm (1.6in) followed the next day by 11.2mm (0.4in). That amount of rain in a 30-hour period does not bode well for grain quality in the wheat.

The wheats last week were only just ready to harvest and with moisture readings in excess of 18% we were not tempted to venture forth. However the ears get blacker by the day and there are real concerns for specific weights as well as Hagberg falling numbers.

Those neighbours who have been able to snatch some wheat between the rain have either been obliged to meet forward contract commitments or been able to dry down rapidly to take advantage of the weather premium of £10-12/t for feed wheat.

Of equal concern to us are the 31.73ha (78 acres) of vining peas grown on a seed contract. After barley these were to have been our next combining priority but now that the vine has been trampled to the ground by torrential rain and the soil is saturated we have changed our mind and reset the combine for wheat and await the first available moment to get stuck in.

Busy on land

On the landwork front we have been busy. The new Fendt 714 Vario has cut its teeth with the three-leg Farmrite sub-soiler on set- aside and oil seed rape stubbles and with its new operator – farm management trainee, Peter Clayton, has been utilising its 50km/hr gearbox on roadwork taking oil seed rape into store.

The outgoing Fendt 312 has been topping rape stubbles with the Spearhead mower driven by our new sandwich year student Nick Kiddy and also spreading pig slurry with a newly purchased 2000gal Marston Agriservices vacuum tanker. I only wish we had been able to clear more ground to let us move slurry and FYM, the later this task is accomplished the tighter the bottleneck later on when we are trying to prepare seedbeds and drill oil seed rape and wheat. &#42