Farmer Focus: Juggling spring drilling with recruiting

After a false start during February, spring seems to have eventually returned. Planting is now progressing at a fair pace, with an element of catch-up adding certain urgency to the situation.

Nitrogen applications, including some in the form of anaerobic digestate, have been applied in an attempt to get cereals moving.

Some of this is taking the form of “let’s try it and see” – more commonly known as “trial work” – that we are undertaking with both the solid and liquid forms of the digestate.

See also: Read more from our arable Farmer Focus writers

A couple of more challenging tasks are presently being undertaken back in the office. First, finding replacements for Angie Robinson, our farm secretary of 25 years, and Yvonne Denny, who has been around the estate for most of her life and quite simply remembers everything.

The loss of such people is always a challenge for any business – they are real assets and very difficult to replace. The second issue that has me focused on the office is financial budgeting.

It is that time of year when the crystal ball has to come out. How much will we be able to market our produce for over the next 18 months, what will happen to other markets and will fertiliser ever fall to its true value again.

That is all before we start to think about the uncertainty created as a result of the EU referendum – at what point should we be tying into a euro exchange rate?

Well, that one is at least very obvious. Of course it is when the pound is at its weakest against the euro. I just need some very wise or lucky person to tell me when that is.

For some reason that reminds me of a student asking a very wise farmer when he drilled his spring barley. He expected there would be some tried-and-tested formula based on soil temperature or moisture.

The response was relatively simple: “Always the week before I hear the first cuckoo.” It did take the student quite a while to work it out.

I must say I did enjoy my trip to the Scottish Borders last month. I find catching up with old friends very enjoyable – hearing what they have been up to and witnessing what their hard work managing the countryside is delivering.

Andrew Blenkiron manages the 4,400ha Euston Estate, south of Thetford. Principal farm enterprises are combinable and root crops, including sugar beet. In addition the estate supports let land, sheep, outdoor pigs, poultry, suckler cows, horses and stewardship.

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