26 November 1999

ON OUR FARMS

EASTON LODGE

Wheat yield offers cheer

ONE bit of good news has been the steady rise in wheat yields during the past five years (table 1).

Given the fall in prices we have needed both quantity and quality just to stand still, although in reality our gross margin has dropped 15% since 1995.

Linked to yield on the thin lime-stone soils around Stamford is, of course, rainfall, particularly in the critical months of May and June. Table 2 shows rainfall measured at Easton Lodge over the past five years and totalled on a cropping year rather than a calendar year.

In the harvest years 1995 and 1996 May/June rain was below the 43-year mean as indeed was annual rainfall to the end of August.

Harvest 1997 enjoyed adequate May/June rain but, unfortunately, it kept coming down in July and August as well. Wheat yields were marginally up on the two previous dry years but at the expense of quality since the rainfall had promoted sprouting and specific weights were well down.

Harvest 1998 was a good one despite a deficit of rain in May, it had come in April and was topped up again to June. July was dry and even though we had 41.2mm rain in August it was not sufficient to interfere with quality.

The rainfall pattern for harvest 1999 wheats was as near perfect as you could hope for. Autumn 1998 seed-beds were moist, albeit that the delays caused sowing to spill over into October, but establishment was excellent. Rain then fell relatively evenly through the year, dropping below the mean in July allowing all the other combinable crops plus a third of the wheat to be harvested.

Then came the August downpours which, for us, did little damage. Some Hagbergs were affected and plots grown for seed were discarded due to sprouting, but the yield was there to compensate. This was the year we averaged 10t/ha across 86.91ha even though 25% had been sown in November after sugar beet and set-aside.

Whats gone right?

Someone asked me the other day: "Doesnt anything ever go right at Easton Lodge?"

No doubt he was referring to the past two On Our Farms when we had a go at British Sugar and bemoaned the fact that our suppliers (those that took the trouble to respond to our letters) only partly endorsed British meat. Or maybe it was in the Machinery Update of Nov 12 when Peter Hill highlighted the high repair costs experienced this year with our two Fendt tractors.

I try not to emulate the production team of the BBCs nine oclock news, which seems to work on the basis that only bad news makes good viewing. Over the years farmers weeklys editorial farms have tried to report the events on their units "warts and all", which is, hopefully, a combination of good and bad news. What follows is, I suppose, a mixture of both.

In June, when we were out-loading wheat from 1998 harvest, a lorry backed into a 5000-litre fuel storage tank next to the grain store. The tank contained tractor diesel for the grain drier and pig unit incinerator and was over half full.

The tank was badly dented and fractured next to the outlet tap and the block supports were in a state of collapse. Fuel was leaking on to the concrete but, fortunately, the flow was staunched using hessian and the area smothered in sawdust to mop up the spillage.

We contacted our fuel suppliers Chandlers Oil & Gas at Grantham, who sent out an empty tanker to pump out the storage tank. Their response was immediate, albeit that it required a driver to come out on overtime; the fuel was returned to the depot and credited to our account.

The hauliers, who were not local, were contacted immediately and I was referred to a department who dealt with insurance claims. Within 24 hours we were given the go-ahead to demolish and replace like with like and a local building company was instructed to submit estimates. We accepted the quotation that included a Titan 5000-litre bunded tank with extra steel posts set in concrete alongside for added protection. The extra cost of £776 that was the difference between replacing like with like and upgrading with integrated tank bunding, was funded by the farm account. All other costs including the replacement oil tank and supports, the cost of Chandlers SOS response and spilt fuel and clear-up costs incurred by farm staff were all met by the hauliers insurers very promptly.

We got off lightly this time, but it does help to explain how a silly mistake made by a third party can cause serious disruption to ones business and could have landed us in court on a pollution charge. &#42

Table 1: Cereal yields

t/ha

1995 7.07

1996 7.11

1997 7.77

1998 9.38

1999* 10.01

*Harvest estimate.

Table 2: Easton Lodge rainfall – harvest year basis

1994/95 1995/96 1996/97 1997/98 1998/99 43-year mean

Sept 122.7 108.3 9.2 7.5 74.9 53.6

Oct 58.0 23.5 46.1 50.2 86.2 47.6

Nov 48.0 57.2 82.7 73.3 38.6 51.8

Dec 54.1 62.9 50.5 52.8 58.6 52.1

Jan 83.2 38.9 20.4 65.5 80.9 50.7

Feb 72.5 40.8 46.0 6.4 35.6 36.3

Mar 30.5 27.1 10.0 49.5 43.4 42.6

Apr 13.2 23.7 26.7 143.2 36.9 48.3

May 34.3 24.6 72.1 9.6 51.2 44.0

June 11.3 19.5 142.7 118.1 74.4 55.2

July 18.7 28.9 71.4 23.2 22.2 51.0

Aug 3.6 58.2 90.1 41.2 78.7 57.0

Total 550.1 513.6 667.9 640.5 681.6 590.2