Barometer Farmer Spotlight: West

Harvest at Chillington Farm, Codsall Wood, Wolverhampton got off to a good start, with winter barley yielding well above average and first-cut oilseed rape also up.

And despite having been slowed by 78mm (3in) of rain in August, Barometer farmer Andrew Blenkiron remained philosophical in the face of Monday’s (19 August) forecast of more bad weather.

“There’s not a lot we can do about it,” he said. “Quite often August is our wettest month here. Three years ago we’d cut half our wheat in July, but then took the whole of August to finish. And four years ago we didn’t begin wheat until the August bank holiday.

“I also had 11 years’ farming in the Scottish borders, where we often didn’t start wheat until September.”

This year’s combining began on 16 July in winter barley. The 49ha (120 acres) of Carat and Suzuka, cut dry averaged 6.8t/ha (2.75t/acre), 18% up on the farm’s five-year mean.

“It was a good yield and gave us a good crop of straw. The Suzuka went down a bit but it still yielded and I’ve sold all except 50t, for feed, at £130/t.”

Blenkiron + Collins 
Simon Collins (left), taking over from Andrew Blenkiron next month, is keeping his fingers crossed that combining will be finished by then. 

Es Astrid oilseed rape was next, on 26 July, from a field that had never grown rape yielding 4.9t/ha (2t/acre), well up on the light land farm’s five-year mean of 3t/ha (1.2t/acre). Castille, NK Grace and a small area of Lioness accounted for the rest of the 129ha (320-acre) crop.

“But it was then all downhill and we ended up with our five-year average,” said Mr Blenkiron. “But that was more to do with fields than varieties. We had two quite badly hit by pigeons. I was very pleased with the Grace.”

Sold on various contracts, from £240/t negotiated last October to 360/t more recently, the rape averaged £310/t. It needed little drying, the wettest load being only 10.9% moisture.

As rain continued to fall, with about half the 100ha (250 acres) of Soissons wheat cut by the farm’s 24ft-cut New Holland CX860, his main worry was for the remaining crop.

“My biggest concern is for the Hagberg in the Soissons, which has done very well at 3.4t/acre adjusted to 15% moisture. Someone’s coming today to test what we’ve done so far. It’s a nice sample, with a bushel weight of 80kg/hl.

“We started cutting last Monday at 22% moisture and by Saturday afternoon it was down to 16%.”

His other varieties, Alchemy, Claire, Humber and Oakley, seemed OK despite the bad weather. “But I’m a bit worried about the Oakley sprouting, so we’ll probably cut that first.

“We’ve got on-floor storage and two Opico mobile driers with gas burners. I’ve been getting gas at 32p/litre. It’s definitely better value than diesel at the moment. Some years ago diesel was only half the price of gas.”

With harvesting days shortening, Simon Collins, who takes over as manager in mid-September when Mr Blenkiron moves to Dorset, said he would be prepared to cut and dry wheat at up to 24% moisture. “But I wouldn’t go much higher because of the expense.”