Farmer Focus: Sun, sea and oilseed rape

It’s always a bit unnerving starting harvest with new members in the team, but I must say, so far, so good.

I know I shouldn’t speak too soon, but the oilseed rape harvest was completed by 2 August with no major incidents or accidents, so very well done guys.

Rape yields are on our 10-year average, but certainly not bumper yields. As expected, the highest yields weren’t necessarily down to variety, but more about length of rotation, with one five-year gap field yielding the most.

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Interestingly, autocast yields matched our conventional establishment methods yields, but with less weed burden. So autocasting will feature more in the coming season.

Some 75mm of rain in July has delayed cultivations a little, which is no bad thing as we’ve already had a chit from volunteers and most weed species, except the one we really want – blackgrass.

I’m sure it will put in an appearance at some point, most probably after we’ve drilled the wheat.

Cambridge roll conundrum

Our new set of Cousins cambridge rolls have arrived – just typical that the land is wet this year. Our previous set weighed in at 7t and felt too light for our clay soils when dry, often needing two passes to reach the desired effect.

The new ones weigh 10t and already look too heavy, but as we have seen before on these clay soils, they can go from too wet to too dry in a matter of days.

Our holiday to Malta was a great success and provided much-needed wind-down time for the family. As I sat under the parasol in  37C heat drinking gin and tonics, I decided to review our 10-year machinery replacement policy – sad I know!

Every now and then I would look up to see another multimillion-pound sports cruiser or yacht enter the bay.

“That’s the life,” I thought. So basically the new replacement policy is to keep everything indefinitely and use my capital expenditure to buy a Sunseeker Cruiser, knowing the more rested and relaxed me will be capable of running an even more efficient business. 


Keith Challen manages 1,200ha of heavy clay soils in the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire, for Belvoir Farming Company. Cropping includes wheat, oilseed rape and elderflowers. The farm is also home to the Belvoir Fruit Farms drinks business.