Farmer Focus: Wet weather makes for hard work

The onslaught of spring work has started, our Belvoir clays are ridiculously wet and travelling through the oilseed rape has resulted in some pretty awful ruts already.

Subsoiling, mole ploughing and regular ditch maintenance have helped but, in the wettest year on record, there’s only so much you can do.

Crops look well and blackgrass control has been surprisingly good in both wheat and rape, yellow rust and Septoria tritici levels in the wheat are the highest I’ve ever seen in early March and the rape is racing through its growth stages. It’s surprising how thick it is from just 25 seeds/sq m.

See also: More from out Farm Focus writers

Like most of us, I’m waiting for details on the next tranche of CAP reforms. Our extremely heavy soils aren’t really suited to many crops and we’ve been on a wheat– rape rotation for many years.

We are too heavy for peas, and beans make us too late; if we aren’t drilled up by mid-September forget it.

Spring crops are difficult. Often the land is too wet and by the time it’s dried out and warmed up it’s too late so the three-crop rule is going to disadvantage us financially not to mention EFAs.

We have recently renewed our ELS agreement, which nicely takes care of our less productive areas so to find an additional 5% for EFAs will be really tricky especially as our field sizes are quite big so I’m waiting with bated breath hoping there will be an alternative to 5% set-aside as an EFA because last time we had it the soil structure was ruined.

The workshop has kept us busy again this month, we’ve just completed a renovation on a western drill filler to help with efficiency at drilling.

I’ve also been trying to draw plans for my converted 12m drill, so far it looks like something an eight-year-old has drawn.

Oh well, perhaps my design technology teacher was right after all when he said: “Challen, heaven only knows what you are trying to draw.”

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.