Farmer Focus: Hard to see the relentless rain as a bonus

Good riddance to 2020. The less said, the better, although it did highlight what’s important in life. A good friend and mentor once told me as long as you wake up in the morning, everything else is a bonus. I keep telling myself this every time it rains. January 2021 is already wetter than January 2020 for us and, somehow, it doesn’t feel like a bonus.

Field walking is currently on hold, as most fields are beyond capacity for moisture. This is because water is held back from flooding towns and villages, and farmland becomes a giant catchment area.

With very little fall on the main blocks of land, a high proportion of drain ends are under several feet of water and, even though we have put in more than 400 hours with the digger in the past 18 months, until the rivers go down, large areas of cropped ground are going to be submerged.

We certainly needn’t worry about getting the drill out yet.

See also: Mildew in barley: How to reduce risk and control the disease

The past few weeks have been spent reviewing our farming policy and how the business will cope as BPS payments are withdrawn.

As all our land is heavy, we really can only grow a handful of combinable crops. In the 10 years I’ve been at Belvoir, we have transitioned from deep, non-plough-based tillage and random-traffic farming to very shallow tillage, full controlled-traffic farming and small amounts of direct drilling – with, hopefully, more in the future.

However, even if we turned to full direct drilling or conservation agriculture tomorrow, it won’t reduce costs nearly enough to replace support payments.

We are already in stewardship and will no doubt expand this through the Environmental Land Management scheme, and I know diversification is one answer. Ironically, we diversified 35 years ago into soft drinks and that is now a very successful standalone business.

My pride tells me I want to grow combinable crops profitably – I just hope pride doesn’t come before a fall.

On a much lighter note, by the time you read this, all of Barley’s puppies will have gone off to their new homes, thank goodness.

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