FARMER FOCUS: It’s time to prepare ELS margins

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to visit the Vaderstad factory in Sweden. Part of the visit was to a quarry where machinery was tested to destruction. Well, I reckon Belvoir clays this past month have been on a par with the said quarry. They say you can’t hurt clay when it’s dry – it’s a shame the same can’t be said for the machinery working it.

Our poor old Simba Freeflow found its 17th season the hardest so far. It’s a good job I’ve got some rejuvenation plans for it – better get some more welding wire ordered.

With everything now drilled, we need to concentrate on getting all of our margins prepared for drilling next spring, as we are in the initial phase of a new five-year ELS agreement. Points are a lot harder to earn now than with our previous agreement and, reluctantly, I have entered most of our hedges into a three-year trimming programme. I can see the need for a saw blade for the digger to keep on top of some of the fast-growing hazels.

About this time of year I try to complete a full post-harvest review to help update my capital expenditure plan. The big hits this year were the new Case combine, homemade chaser bin and grain store. Considering how late we started, harvest was completed in record time with virtually no downtime and the misses were fewer than normal.

Our 20-year-old Avadex (tri-allate) spreader at 8m doesn’t fit in with our new 12m Controlled Traffic Farming system, so some homework needs to be done. Our lack of ability to spread slug pellets beyond 18m has also at times made application a slow job and I need to investigate a 36m machine.

It’s getting to that time of year when I swap the smell of engine oil for gun oil. Superdog Millie is like a coiled spring, two years of training are about to be undone in two minutes. Everything I’ve taught her has been based on just the two of us, certainly not with the confusion of 10 other dogs working. Heaven only knows what chaos is about to be unleashed.

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

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