10 August 2001

Quiet start to harvest

WITHOUT the perennial ryegrass to cut, harvest enjoyed a fairly relaxed start this year.

In the past we have battled with about 12ha (30 acres) of herbage seeds. The crop has been known to take up to a week to harvest, trying the patience of farm staff and the fabric of our ageing Clayson 8060 combine, hired from Agricultural Plant Hire.

The first crop to fall before the cutter bar was 19.8ha (49 acres) of Pearl winter barley. We started about lunch time on July 24 and soon realised that the crop was yielding well. Bearing in mind that during the previous three years we have been growing Maris Otter at a mean yield of 6.1t/ha (2.5t/acre), we were bound to have a pleasant surprise.

Moisture content was 15.5% on the first day dropping to 13.5% by mid-afternoon on the second day. Our yield estimate is 8.5t/ha (3.4t/acre) which is pleasing given the growing conditions experienced since sowing last autumn.

The straw yielded about 6t/ha (2.4t/acre) or 20% more than Maris Otter. After baling it has been transferred to our pig unit and provides a welcome bonus.

The grain has not been sampled so that we are still in the dark about nitrogen levels and suitability for malting. Our contract will pay us a premium of £8/t for nitrogen levels between 1.55 and 1.8. That compares with a potential premium of £35/t for Maris Otter on a far tighter scale which, in three years of growing, we have achieved only once.

Does yield pay better than quality? The answer on this years results certainly comes out in favour of yield. Assuming a harvest barley price of £64/t and including an £8/t premium for Pearl, which yields 8.5t/ha (3.4t/acre), output is £612/ha (£247/acre). Deducting variable costs of £149/ha (£60.30/acre) produces a net margin before area aid of £463/ha (£187/acre).

The same exercise for Maris Otter includes a premium of £35/t and a yield of 6.1t/ha (2.5t/ha) giving an output of £604/ha (£245/acre). Variable costs would be higher at £207/ha (£84/acre) providing a net margin of £397/ha (£160/acre) or £66/ha (£27/acre) less than for Pearl. So there is no contest.

I hope that will not affect the flavour of some of my favourite real ales the manufacturers of which used to boast their preference for Maris Otter for its malt.

In 1998 when we started growing this variety the top premium was £45/t. Why has that fallen? I do not believe that Marstons has reduced the price of a pint of Pedigree.

After a gap of five days we moved into the oilseed rape. Like our barley, this was all in one field amounting to 25.6ha (63 acres). Madrigal, produced from home-saved seed, made up 80% of the field and 20% was Fortress grown as a new variety. Harvest was by no means a simple affair although we managed a great deal better after we substituted the electric side knife with a hydraulic version on the first day.

Feeding the crop into the Clayson 8060 is always a problem and since we have been unable to spray with a growth regulator the stem height was phenomenal. Both varieties have a rating of 7 for height and Madrigal a 5 for stem stiffness against a figure of 7 for Fortress. As predicted the Madrigal went down and the Fortress remained standing with the exception of the tramlines which were totally flat after being used for a fungicide application on May 14.

Then we lost half a day when the water pump on the combine seized up and a further five hours to change the side knife. Add to that the fact that the field could be cut only one way and after three days we were still not finished, and the weather forecast was predicting rain, things were getting a little fraught. The Fortress was cut last and due to heavy header losses was left until the early morning of the fourth day when damper conditions meant that shedding was not so much of a problem. We had not desiccated but the slightest touch of the reel in the heat of the day caused major losses.

The Madrigal cut much better albeit in one direction. Being laid, losses were minimal until after midday when the heat and the dryness of the crop caused the seed to start splitting which no amount of adjustment to the combine could prevent.

All is now safely gathered in and is being conditioned before being taken into a local store by our own tractor and trailer. Estimated yield seems to be 4.2t/ha (1.7t/acre). Since we have sold 80t at £135/t we have a further 30t to sell on the spot market at nearer £150/t.

Farrowing specialist sought

We are looking for a farrowing specialist to join our pig unit at Easton Lodge. David Wells, who joined us in January, is leaving at the end of August for personal reasons and we are keen to appoint a replacement as soon as possible. We are looking for an experienced, enthusiastic person to join our team and in return offer a good salary and pension scheme with a cottage in the nearby village. For an application form, please phone 01780-782572. &#42