29 March 2002

Rain foils our plans

ANOTHER week on and we are no further forward by Mar 22 with our spring drilling. But we do have our Fendt 395 systems tractor fitted out with the power harrow drill combination unit and ready to go. The new clutch has been installed and the drill was calibrated for peas by Thursday night (Mar 14). Since then, rain falling on and off for eight days has stepped in to foil our plans. At least seedbeds dry out fairly quickly in the spring and one field in particular is a light limestone brash and should work down soon – I hope.

Between the showers we have managed to press on with spraying and top dressing so all has not been lost.

OSRsprayed

The oilseed rape has been sprayed with tebuconazole as a growth regulator to shorten and strengthen the stem followed by a second application of urea at 74kgN/ha (60 units/acre). This makes the total nitrogen to date up to 139kgN/ha (111 units/acre). The third and last dose will go on as late as possible to stimulate pod growth rather than stems.

Still kicking our heels and with seedbeds too sticky for drilling we decided to press on with more top dressing. It had been our intention to apply the rest of the nitrogen on the Pearl winter barley by the end of the month. So with a day or two in hand we decided to spread a further 90kgN/ha (72 units/acre) making the average application about 140kgN/ha (112 units/acre) in two doses. All those applications have been achieved with a minimum of mess due probably to the tramlines being both wet and firm leaving the tractor wheels clean.

Encouraged by the NFU, I decided to contact the Environment Agency to enquire about nitrate levels present in both surface water and ground water in the vicinity of Easton Lodge. The imposition of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones in England will have a major input on our business. We have over 4000 pigs at Easton Lodge producing copious quantities of farmyard manure/slurry and dirty water.

The FYM is stacked on concrete in sleeper walled middens and taken out on to stubble fields after harvest for spreading and ploughing in late September. The slurry is contained in a three ringed Alfa Laval above -ground store and may be partly emptied during the late winter/early spring if it is getting full on to set-aside or grass. The majority however is spread on barley stubble prior to working down a seedbed for oilseed rape.

The dirty water could be a major problem in the new regulations since this is the contaminated run-off from yards, middens and buildings within the pig unit itself and is stored in a below- ground concrete block lined tank.

This has a capacity to store about seven days of dirty water but after heavy rainfall often has to be emptied daily. This too is spread on cereal stubbles, set-aside or grass all the year round. Like most affected livestock farmers we filled in our response sheet to DEFRA reluctantly ticking option two more by way of showing our disapproval of a universal designation throughout England.

More scope

I certainly feel that the government should make better us of the scope it has to minimise the designation still further than the four-fifths in option two. To my mind the governments view on the designation issue is both mistaken and over-zealous. The area should be cut back in line with the Welsh and Scottish proposals.

For those caught up in this or any other designated area there must be a well-funded and flexible capital grant aid scheme to enable farmers to adapt their manure handling storage and spreading facilities.

I whole heartedly agree with the NFU when it says the government has a duty to take responsibility for the financial consequence of its mistakes for others, but know in my heart that it will not. When DEFRA recommends to farmer producers that they pass on the extra costs incurred by these proposals to the consumer I know that once again farmers will be caught between a rock and a hard place.

EAletter

Getting back to the Environment Agency, my message left on their answer phone produced a letter from their Peterborough office. The correspondence included sampling reports within a 5km radius of Easton Lodge. Print-outs detailing water quality grades and targets according to the General Quality Assessment and River Quality Objectives Schemes. Finally my bumper pack included a floppy disk which I have not yet loaded on to my PC.

My brain, unlike the water running out of the limestone on the farm, is far from clear and a phone call to the water quality officer did not help too much. She admitted that to interpret the information I had received could prove difficult – she had obviously heard about my end of school report.

Hopefully a summary written in plain mans English will follow but I suspect I shall be told that the samples taken in local water courses are close to or above the 50ppm limit held sacrosanct by the EU – that much I have been able to ascertain. &#42

Meet Alisdair Chisholm, the new farrowing specialist at our Easton Lodge 355-sow breeder/finisher unit. Alisdair who joins us from Scotland, will work alongside Jasper Renold and John Knighton.