Farmer Focus: French trip shows pros and cons of co-ops

We are finally settling into the winter routine. We have been fortunate enough to have experienced a prolonged period of settled weather and good ground conditions this autumn, which has allowed field work to continue well into November.

It is a rare year when we can roll in winter beans at the beginning of November.

The autumn-sown crops are, on the whole, looking good and our new Mzuri drill looks to have performed well, with very even establishment.

Increasing our base seed rate by 50 seeds/sq m looks to have been a good decision. 

See also: Read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

After fighting off slugs and the odd bit of cabbage stem flea beetle, the humble rabbit has now taken a liking to our wheat in the odd area.

There does seem to be a few around this year, and as my grandfather says: “You can’t farm with rabbits.”

I do think our attention to detail on preventing them has slackened in recent years and therefore we will be taking action.

Lost focus

The oilseed rape is also looking well and I am pleased to say not as forward as last year, as a large proportion of it ended up going flat come harvest.

The herbicide applied to the Clearfield oilseed rape has done a fantastic job this autumn on the charlock.

I only wish I had put more Clearfield oilseed rape in, as I have found additional fields that also have a charlock problem.

I was fortunate enough recently to take part in an AHDB French study trip. The focus of the trip was to look at co-operatives. The two we visited have been established for more than 100 years.

Both have nearly 4,000 farmer members, but it struck me, particularly with one, that the co-operative was being run more like a business in its own right and had lost the focus on its members.

We also visited local farmers who are members of the co-operatives, but still find they can trade better independently.

The main benefit that I could see to being a member of the co-operative was in a bad harvest year like the French experienced in 2016.

In such circumstances the French farmers found the co-operative would take their poor-quality grain at an acceptable price.

In addition to this, one of the co-operatives decided not to reinvest that year but instead provided its members with a larger-than-normal dividend to help them through.    

The trip was very interesting and enjoyable, but I was very jealous of the farmers we went to visit, as their soils are more than six meters deep.

Jack Hopkins is the assistant farm manager on a 730ha estate in north Herefordshire on predominantly silty clay loam soils. Cropping includes wheat, barley, oilseed rape, spring oats and peas, plus grassland that supports a flock of 1,000 ewes and 25 pedigree Hereford cattle.

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