Farmer Focus: ‘Tis the season of the spreadsheet

I hope everyone had a happy Christmas. For a quiet time of year, I’ve been quite busy.

Volatility is about the only constant at the moment, whether it is financial, physical or meteorological.

Finally, some cooler nights have allowed us to get our potato stores pulled down to single-figure temperatures, which will take pressure off both sprout suppressants and my overdraft.

See also: Three key spring cropping options in the North

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.  
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We have emptied one of our short-term stores, and have another to go, likely over the festive season. The tester will be the February and March stores.

DMN (dimethylnaphthalene) has impressed me so far, with minimal weight loss and no sign of dormancy break, which is pleasing, particularly given the physiological age of the crop.

The mild autumn has at least boosted our cover crops, with oats, oil radish and lupins looking particularly strong.

We have kept learning and adjusting our cover crop model since the first species I planted back in 2011, and it was a pleasure recently to show a Nuffield scholar around this year’s efforts and compare notes.

I look forward to reading your report in due course, Toby. Enjoy your travels, time will fly past.

Our first lifted beet varied quite a bit in all respects, but averaged well for the dry season.

We lifted the second lot this last week and got the fields drilled with wheat before more rain – thank you team for a sterling job.

Our potato enterprise is shrinking. Studying our business history suggests that should contract prices allow, diversity of enterprises has very much been a historic strength.

Who knows where cereal or fertiliser prices might be in even a few weeks, let alone a year or so? ‘Tis the season of the spreadsheet – benchmarking will be interesting this year.

Winter is also training time, and we’re fortunate to enjoy the services of our excellent local training group. I have undertaken Basis Soil & Water recently, which was interesting, and James has had a first-aid update.

All regular staff attend the course over time – it’s not expensive, you always learn something, and better we all know the drill.

Be it Dutch turmoil, Putin, pandemic, recession or just wonky weather patterns, farming will keep bringing challenges – let’s hope they bring opportunity, satisfaction, and maybe even a few quid; I am ever the optimist.

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