Farmer Focus: Still haunted by flea beetles

Life has come down with a bump since the rather heady heights of harvest. Commodity prices have slipped away, we have had the flea beetle crisis and while I managed to agree a rent standstill on one block of land I farm, on another I have received a “proposal” for a 133% increase.

The difference between the sand land I manage in Nottinghamshire and the chalks at Royston has never been more marked. On the sands we have no slugs, blackgrass or flea beetle. On the chalks, blackgrass and slugs are not the issue that they are on nearby heavier soils but when it comes to flea beetle there is no comparison.

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I read recently in a HGCA report that nationally only about 2.5% of the rape crop has had to be abandoned or redrilled. In this area it could be as high as 50% or perhaps even more. This year it seems that 20 August is like a watershed. If you drilled after this time it has been a monumental struggle to get your crop to establish and survive.

We persevered longer since we had crops of turnips and rape for seed, which the seed companies were anxious to retain for their seed production and sales after next harvest. Despite treating our crops up to seven times against the pest and redrilling failed crops we have had to pull the plug on 75% of our acreage.

Even where we had satisfactorily redrilled, two days later it had been grazed right off on one field. It’s also been a “double whammy” with the sheep enterprise being affected as well due to similar problems in establishing grazing turnips.

Last Friday I returned from a half-term break visiting family in Scotland, speeding down the East Coast mainline I read through the latest version of CAP reform and in particular the section on greening.

I was trying to work out what hedges on my farms were going to be eligible for EFA’s and how they would contribute to the total area required. Despite looking out of the window at practical examples I think that I must have nodded off for a while…

Robert Law, 2006 Farmers Weekly Farmer of the year, farms 1,500ha growing cereals, turnips, mustard, forage rape for seed and sugar beet, plus 300ha of grassland supporting a flock of 2,500 ewes. He also manages 500ha of Nottinghamshire sandland.