Farmer Focus: Harvest system needs tweaking

Andrew Charlton farms 92ha (277 acres) at Stow Bridge in south-west Norfolk where he is a stockless organic arable producer, adviser and council tenant. Crops include cereals, potatoes, vegetables and fertility-building clover.

After the fifth wet harvest on the trot it’s tempting to ask “why me?”.

Certainly there has been plenty of time to think about how our harvesting system could be tweaked to get us out of the mire should this continue.

One option, enthusiastically explored by our larger neighbours, is to dramatically expand output by buying a bigger machine. But can the costs be justified, especially if cereal production enters another lean period?

Another option is to improve our drying capability, which is inefficient and costly. But heavy investment in fixed equipment is impractical for tenant farmers.

Pedestals just don’t cut the mustard for me, either for drying or cooling, and I find it hard to believe that the best kit the human mind could devise is on the market.

A third option is to diversify cropping to widen the harvesting window.

I have had some limited success with this by introducing oats. They yielded 7.3t/ha – not bad for organic – and they looked capable of withstanding the rigours of the weather better than, say, spring wheat, which I would otherwise have grown.

Giles on the combine might not agree with me as our inability to use growth regulator meant they were a bit laid and a lesser man would have cut them one way only.

More pressing than all this is the delay in getting land cleared – it’s pushing us more and more into our “crazy time” of September and October. So I’m secretly glad that one job I’ve been spared is straw carting.

A company we’ve supplied for a couple of years mysteriously decided that this year was right for a 20% price cut. It goes without saying that the switch in the combine cab for the straw chopper has been left in the “on” position for the duration.

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