Farmer Focus: Wild ducks are swimming in my wheat fields

I’m resisting the urge to moan about the rugby or the weather, needless to say no land work has taken place yet.

To make matters worse, our wild duck population are taking the mickey by leaving our ponds to swim in our wheat fields and not pairing up and moving off to one of the smaller watercourses to raise a family.

There’s been no shortage of work through the winter months and as well as the usual hedgecutting and ditch cleaning we’ve managed to fit some hedge planting in.

See also: Delayed spring drilling may hit yields as soils stay wet

When I say “we” what I really mean is “I’ve” offered strategic advice from behind my desk as I produce another spreadsheet ironically proving that in-house hedgecutting is quite an expensive operation.

Willow harvest

In 2014, we took on a farm business tenancy and inherited 16ha of short rotation coppice willow that, at the time, had just been a harvested.

Since then, it has grown rapidly, putting on between 4ft and 5ft of new growth each year. Back in February we harvested the willow – contractors with a modified sugar cane harvester came and cleared the lot in two days.

To say this machine is impressive is an understatement. Equipped with steel tracks and circular saw blades this thing ate two rows of willow at a pace which had to be seen to be believed.

The result is an outdoor heap of willow some 40ft high 60ft wide and 150ft long, as impressive as it looks we can only guess the total weight – answers on a postcard please.

My daughter Harriet is back from Newcastle University for a month for Easter. Great, I thought, I will offer to help with revision.

I don’t know how many of you have any knowledge of biochemistry or microbiology, there are some big words involved and, bless her, with her mother’s tact, she said: “If you can’t even pronounce the words correctly how do you expect to be of help?”

Enough said, I’ll retreat back to the farm workshop.


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.