Farmer Focus: Canary seed and peas axed in cropping shake-up

A new year has arrived again and like in previous ones, I find myself reflecting on my business and what I can do differently or better.

Although my challenges are in some cases specific to my circumstances, I’m not sure the majority are particularly different to any other farming or business sector.

I just need to concentrate on the factors I can do something about. Last autumn I started to place greater focus on optimising production in the right places.

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A chunk of poorer arable land has been sown to grass and will be used for sheep grazing. In addition to building fertility, it has reduced my requirement for summer grass keep; which was starting to look expensive.

I have also simplified the cropping. Having spent a year or two looking for opportunities, I discovered what I should have known anyway – minor crops are non-mainstream for a reason.

So out went canary seed. Although it was straightforward to grow and harvest, it never quite lived up to my financial expectations.

Peas have also left the cropping plan for this spring. They always looked amazing and to be fair didn’t perform too badly, but were just too slow to harvest at a critical time.

I feel the need to optimise the output of my combine is more important than the benefit of the crop.

If I assume Brexit is going to happen and I become subject to a free market with minimal subsidies, I want my higher-value crops to be performing at the optimum level.

The daffodil crop could be a key player in this, with the Cornish climate proving a distinct advantage in producing long stems and hard bulbs.

The biggest challenge here is going to be labour availability for harvesting. I am in a similar situation with potatoes, onions and swedes.

Our vegetable processing business gives us an outlet that enables me to grow these crops which, provided I do it right, have higher margins than alternatives while serving a defined market.

The farming unions do sterling work at a political level, but it is firmly my responsibility to shape my business. Here’s to a successful 2017.


Jeremy Oatey manages 1,200ha of arable land near Plymouth in Cornwall and is 2013 Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year. Cropping includes wheat, barley, OSR, oats, beans, potatoes, onions, swedes and daffodils.