Farmer Focus: A frustrating autumn drilling campaign

The autumn cereal drilling campaign has been another frustrating one, plagued by bouts of wet weather which kicked off on Saturday 3 October; the wettest day for UK-wide rainfall since records began in 1891.

This dumped about 110mm of rainfall across prepared seedbeds. Arable farmers really do face an annual Catch 22: drill early and run the risk of uncontrolled Blackgrass and aphid-induced BYDV, or drill late and the weather closes in with rooks or slugs taking a cut.

See also: Meet the 2020 Britain’s Fittest Farmer champions

The Avadex applicator which we retro-fitted to the drill worked well and we wait to see improved grassweed control. It has also been a good season to use slug pre-baiting techniques on selected high-risk fields to reduce seed hollowing problems.

For the last third of drilled fields, putting actives on pre-emergence has, frustratingly, been nigh impossible.

In September I had the pleasure of hosting the main heat of Farmers Weekly‘s Britain’s Fittest Farmer event. With some careful planning it was possible to safely run this event outdoors during Covid restrictions.

About 80 contestants slugged it out in small groups over the sunny weekend for the chance to qualify for the final. It was good to meet and talk to contestants from all over England and Wales.

This event was a happy highlight of a difficult year, and well done to all participants. It has even encouraged me to puff round the farm on the occasional run!

There’s no getting away from the fact it’s a very worrying time for British Agriculture. Continued uncertainties around trade, support and production standards make it difficult to plan ahead objectively.

In the past I have suggested investing in diversified income streams – but then a protracted global pandemic comes along to sucker punch these activities, too.

Should we hunker down as businesses or invest for the future? Should we expand or contract out farming activities?

Am I a busy fool; too busy fighting fires to sit down and decide what needs to be done next?

I think we all need to take some time out at this critical juncture to stop, pause, and rationally plan for the next few years to find the best path forwards, maybe with the support of an external farm consultant.

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