Farmer Focus: Positive potatoes, soggy sugar beet and dull cereals  

There hasn’t been time to get bored this month, despite the lack of field work. I have identified a few areas on the farm where drainage needs attention.  

I’m pleased to say that although it isn’t a halcyon year for cover crops, most of them are doing a good job at protecting the land we farm from the 30mm of rain we’ve had every week since October. 

While I’m on the positives: potatoes. British Potatoes 2023 was as excellent, as ever, though the mood was generally a bit “real”, given the challenges of the season.   

See also: New beet offer from British Sugar but still no agreement

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

Lifting for us followed the stop-start nature of everything else, and we still have about 1ha left to get in three wet bits, but yield and quality have generally been OK.

Some March contracted crop has moved early and illustrates the value in open and early dialogue with customers.

November contracts have also moved on time, with the much-needed boost to cashflow arriving.  

Stores are taking some watching, and fans are running higher hours than normal, but generally things are in order.  

Even contract price announcements hold a glimmer of positivity, with customers showing a little solidarity and going about things in a more civilised manner than another root crop buyer… Which brings me to sugar beet. 

We lifted the first third of our crop between deluges last week and have perhaps optimistically drilled those fields with wheat

Our sugar beet customer has relented and offered another couple of quid, and arrived where they ought to have started regarding next year’s beet price.  

They’ve seen a bit of sense regarding the much-maligned code of conduct, but their stubbornness to share the highs (via the futures contract) despite their negotiable elements, and arrogance – demonstrated in once again releasing another unilateral contract offer – does stick in the craw rather. 

Are we as growers likely to step up (again) and work with them when the world sugar price has its next dip? I, for one, will certainly be less keen. Trust and integrity are eroding fast. 

As far as the cereals go, let’s just say that field walking is best described as “uninspiring”. 

Best wishes for the New Year from a very wet North Yorkshire.

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