5 July 2002

Pests, pests everywhere

THIS is definitely the year of the pest, writes Tim Green. Vimer has experienced damage from slugs in the maize, moles in grassland and aphids in the cereals. Slugs are seldom a big problem because of our very stony ground, but this year has proved to be the exception and we have had to bait parts of almost all our fields.

About 80kg of slug pellets, costing £1.98/kg, have been spread using a local contractor with a quad bike, at a cost of £4.80/ha (£1.94/acre). Because the maize was so slow to establish the slugs had been having a beanfeast, although the recent warm weather has transformed the crop with the plants changing from yellow to green and expanding almost visibly and outgrowing the slug damage.

Unwelcome moles

We still have some unwelcome moles, despite the formidable efforts of our Geordie moleman, Paul Parker. They probably arrived here via my neighbours land, and although the population has been reduced, the damage has meant we have still had to restrict some fields to hay rather than silage which would have been affected by soil contamination. It will take an extended programme of mole control to really contain the scourge.

It is years since we have been forced to spray cereals for aphids, this year both triticale and wheat have required treatment. It is very unusual for triticale to need an insecticide because the awns on the grain normally deter aphids quite well.

Our wheat also has a minor infestation and because the crop looks promising, we will apply a minimum dose of, zetacypermethrine insecticide at 0.1 litres/ha in a tank-mix with the final fungicide of Soleil (bromuconazole and tebuconazole) applied at 0.4 litres/ha. This cost will be just over £12/ha (£4.85/acre) based on an insecticide cost of £38.60/litre and the fungicide costing £20.50/litre.

Most of our maize ground is very clean following a post-drilling application of atrazine plus acetochlore. Rain shortly after spraying helped to disperse the agrochemical and resulted in greater efficacy; had we experienced a dry period it would not have worked nearly so well. Those areas requiring a final clean up have been sprayed with a cocktail of 0.5 litres/ha atrazine, 0.7 litres/ha of Li 700 adjuvant, 1 litre/ha of nicosulfuron and 2.5 litres/ha bentazone plus dicamba.

Areas which did not receive pre-emergence atrazine, have been treated with a higher rate of 1.5 litres/ha Atrazine in the post-emergent mix.

We are saving all our well-rinsed empty ago-chemical containers for an impending new collection scheme to be operated by the supply trade. Re-cycling and anti-pollution initiatives are very much in vogue in France. At a recent demonstration I attended, used black plastic silage sheets were baled into 900mm (36in) diameter round bales for another impending collection service. We will be signing up for both of them at Vimer on the basis that its better to be a volunteer than wait for compulsory conscription.

Most people attending last months annual general meeting of our Bergers de Normandie sheep group agreed that Frances sheep industry is on something of a high, mainly because of reduced imports from the UK. All price records have been broken over the past year and consequently, we have received the best average prices for about 20 years.

Sorting out

There has also been some sorting out of the board which comprised an amalgamation of three previous producer groups. Conflicts of interest and reluctance to share responsibility within a larger group has led a small band to create their own independent marketing system.

The current new board has regained much of the old atmosphere and drive that we had years ago, something which could be worth more than pence per kilo in the long term.

Doubtless, prices will slip eventually as UK imports come back on stream, but because almost half of Vimers lambs go through one premium marketing strategy or another, we are better placed to defend our slice of the trade.

Our lambs are looking very bonny and we should soon be drawing the first for selling. The Suffolk rams, supplied through the group and selected by our technical adviser, Francis Taupin, have been among the best weve ever had. Recently wormed during clipping using Synathic at a cost of £70.56p for five litres, the ewes were a lively bunch to handle for my young sandwich-year student Nicolas Treche who had never touched a sheep in his life. Credit to him, he also got stuck into drawing ewes for shearing that were heavier than him, although I dont think a sheep flock will be on his list of alternative enterprises back home.

Shearing loss

Once again, shearing will be a net loss with clipping costing 85p/ewe and wool selling at probably 25p/kg.

It did me good to get off the farm for a while with the Fareham and Hants Farmers Club who were visiting with the Agricultural Travel Bureau.

Our trip to local farmer Jean Marc Mesas was an eye opener for both parties particularly when we explained to him that the UK burnt all cattle over 30 months of age. Meanwhile, Jean Marc was finishing double-muscled heifers at 3.5 years old and receiving £3.20/kgdw for an animal weighing 500kgdw. Yards full of massive beef cattle are a feature sadly missing from the UK farming scene. &#42

Thanks mainly to a reduction in imports from the UK the French sheep industry is on a high and Vimer has received its best average lamb prices for 20 years. The wool market is not so good. Shearing has been just been completed with the help of sandwich year student Nicolas Treche (left) pictured with Tim Green. Once again, the cost of clipping has exceeded the value of the wool.