Arable Farmer Focus: Clover concerns for Andrew Charlton

Over the years, my attempts at encouraging visitors on to my farm have been pretty lamentable. In particular, the biggest problem has been getting people interested enough to bother turning up.

Thanks to my close relationship with Denver Mill, our local windmill, craft bakers and tea rooms, I think a corner has been turned. Mark and Lindsay who run the mill have created a “plough to plate” course for visitors to attend over a weekend involving a visit to the farm to see how the basic ingredient is produced, then taking back a sack of wheat which is then milled, sieved and eventually turned into rather delicious bread.

It is a simple idea, but judging by the enthusiasm of our first course participants earlier this month, it looks like being a winner. It’s easy to forget in this world of overpackaged, homogenous foods just how much people enjoy tactile experiences we take for granted each day.

While our grain crops for this harvest look like we will be in for an average to good year, I am already less enthusiastic about prospects for 2011 because of the extreme difficulty in establishing clover in this summer’s drought. Red clover undersown into spring barley last year which had a good tap root in the soil before it stopped raining looks pretty good, but anything sown into a seed-bed this spring just hasn’t had enough moisture to get going. The plants are there, but very small and obviously not big enough to start fixing nitrogen yet, which is what I want them to do.

I suspect there is going to be a lot of clover ploughed out very late in the autumn to be followed by a spring cereal, and that assumes some rainfall in August or September to allow at least a growth spurt in the autumn.

• To read more from Andrew Charlton click here, or to see what our other Farmer Focus Arable writers have to say click here.

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