Dry weather hinders wheat growth for Keith Challen

Essex grower Guy Smith farms the driest land in Britain at St Osyth, but I can’t believe anywhere is drier than the Vale of Belvoir right now. With only 40mm of rainfall since the end of June – and 30mm of that falling in one day back in early August – even our recently cleaned out ditches have cracks and fissures in the bottom deep enough to get your arm in. Wheat drilled three weeks ago into very good seed-beds has not germinated yet and won’t until it receive significant rainfall.

As part of my machinery review, we had a Fendt 939 tractor on demo last week and were very impressed. At nearly 400hp, it packed a mighty punch, easily pulling our modified Terrano and press rig, although we did manage to slow it down a little with the nine-leg subsoiler. The impressive part was fuel use, which was nearly 20 litres an hour better than our old Quadtrac.

As commodity prices keep falling, I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve missed the highs of the year by not selling everything pre-summer. Although we’ve committed some crops at good prices I’m a little nervous about the rest.

This year’s success story so far is oilseed rape. All three of our hybrid varieties are flying – even with no rain. Interestingly, as you would expect, the last-drilled DK Expower has caught up the earlier-drilled DK Extrovert and is not far behind first-drilled DK Excellium. We will soon apply fungicides for phoma control, along with phosphite, boron, manganese and possibly some molybdenum.

Congratulations to the entrants and winners of this year’s Farmers Weekly Awards. As I read the winners’ profiles, it occurred to me what a talented industry we have, with a bright future.

Keith Challen manages 800ha of heavy clay soils in the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire, for Belvoir Fruit Farms. Cropping includes wheat, oilseed rape and elderflowers. The farm is also home to the Belvoir Fruit Farms drinks business.

Read more from Keith and our other Arable Farmer Focus writers.

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