Farmer Focus: 2024 is testing farmers but we’ll find a way

Let’s start with the positives. March and April contracted potatoes are all delivered to the factory and seed destined for chitting is dressed against the inevitable rhizoctonia (given the cold, wet soils).  

It is crated up waiting for planting in a few weeks. It won’t be an early plant here – the ideal for us is mid-April to mid-May, so we have a little time yet, and we’re going to need it.

We got our sugar beet harvested. Although the tyre marks from the harvester were filling with water from below a few minutes after it passed. It’s fair to say the sponge is full. 

See also: Farmer Focus: Demoralising ruts in the majority of fields

About the author

Andrew Wilson
Arable Farmer Focus writer Andrew Wilson is a fourth-generation tenant of Castle Howard Estate in North Yorkshire. The farm supports crops of wheat, barley, oats, beans, sugar beet, potatoes, and grass for hay across 250ha. Other enterprises include bed and breakfast pigs, environmental stewardship, rooftop solar and contracting work.  
Read more articles by Andrew Wilson

Yields aren’t breaking records. Given no sunshine equals no sugar and clart is the order of the season, adjusted yields are best forgotten. 

During the bachelor’s March, we managed to get some nitrogen onto winter cereals using a light tractor on big wheels and small loads. 

However, we’ve barely scratched the surface of spring normality and haven’t sown a seed since December.

Straw has become a driver to persist with sowing spring oats and barley – that and a few loads of well-sold (for once) grain.  

Beans are another matter. March sowing here usually means October harvesting, so April sowing could mean Christmas combining.  

Our two wettest fields destined for beans need too long now to get dry enough to sow and may become a pulse-based cover crop and not be harvested.  

This will at least offer some soil conditioning and weed control, and given our best wheat usually follows beans, better prospects for 2025.  

Sustainable Farming Incentive options will feature on the farm, but I’m a farmer, not a park keeper, and we have good reasons to continue to find ways to farm how we do. 

Cover crops pre-roots have mostly been sprayed off and will be topped once conditions allow. Base fertiliser is now on, but muck spreading will have to wait to avoid creating more problems from soil damage than we cure.  

My cropping plan and establishment methods have changed several times, but we’ve always managed to sow and harvest one way or another. 

2024 is testing us, but we’ll find a way. It’s what farmers do. 

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