TRUCKLOADS OF wheat, barley and oilseed rape have been leaving the farm and, apart from the spring barley, the buyers have been largely happy with what they”ve been sent.

Despite a rain-interrupted wheat harvest, which meant the last of the crop was not gathered until the end of the first week of September, James Crosbie Dawson”s belief that most of the wheat survived unscathed has been borne out.

“So far we”ve loaded out about 240t of Solstice, which has been going into the mill at Barry,” he says. “Apart from minimal moisture claims on most loads, which I was expecting, everything else has been fine.” Moisture readings of 15-15.5% resulted in deductions of £1-3/t.

The grain was sold last winter for £80/t plus premiums as applicable. With samples suggesting the protein would  struggle to meet  the contract’s 13% specification, he accepted a £5/t premium from his merchant, Glencore Grain.

A further 150t of oilseed rape, also sold forward when he could realise £165/t, was delivered trouble-free.

“We have taken great care in looking after crops in store, and it has paid off. We sampled the grain as it came into store, dried it carefully, and have been monitoring moisture and temperature across the heaps regularly.”

But the spring barley has been little short of a disaster, says Mr Crosbie Dawson. “Three loads went in OK, but the next seven, all loaded onto lorries, were rejected for pre-germination, despite extensive sampling by Glencore showing a germination level of 99%. By the time it got to its destination, it had fallen to 90%. I had to have it taken to a barn, tipped and reloaded and sent for feed.”

It was a costly exercise – the crop had been expected to fetch £90/t, but he will be lucky to clear £50/t. “I am certainly going to take a big hit. It seems that the damage was done with a three-day delay in cutting the barley, when we switched to milling wheat instead.”

The experience reinforced his decision to buy a newer, higher capacity combine for next harvest. “I have bought a New Holland TX68 to replace our old TX65. We could have cut the spring barley in its prime had we been able to get on quicker.”

The three-year-old machine has done just 600 hours, and its net cost was £45,000. “We were also facing a bill of about £10,000 to get the old one up to scratch for next harvest, so I reckon we got a reasonable deal. “

I borrowed the cash on the maker’s finance package, and I will pay £13,000 a year over the next four years. I ran this past my bank manager and he said he couldn”t match it, and he advised me to go with it.”

 Wheat Drilled

The last of the wheat was drilled a fortnight ago following maize. “The rest was just showing through the ground. Overall all the crops look good – we have some very good plants, and the oilseed rape is the best I have ever seen it.”

The 160ha (400 acres) of Robigus, Solstice and Soissons wheat that had emerged has been sprayed with a mix of Hawk/IPU/Panther at 2.5, 2 and 1litres/ha respectively to control blackgrass, volunteer rape and annual meadow grass. Cypermethrin was added for aphid control.

 “We remain very fortunate that we only really have background levels of blackgrass, which so far is showing no signs of resistance. It makes our budgeted yield of 3.2t/acre look a bit more profitable than it might otherwise be.”

Over half the dairy bulls have been sold, slaughtered at Drury”s of Wootton Bassett and going on to Jarrett”s at Bristol. But Mr Crosbie Dawson may hold on to the remaining 15 until the price improves.

The first 18 sold so far have averaged 150p/kg deadweight, and have killed out at about 280kg apiece. But he suspects the price for the most recent load will bring the average down.

 “I have been advised that it might pay to keep the rest until after Christmas. I will lose the £50/head slaughter premium, but the improved price could more than make up for that.

“I have heard that there were 150 fat cattle at Chippenham, but no-one wanted to buy. People are throwing cattle at the market to secure the slaughter premium, apparently. But my bulls will take some handling after Christmas, so I will have to see how long we can hold on.”

There is no more news on who will be buying the Freefolk herd’s milk from next April, following the take-over of Southern Co-operative Dairies, part of Associated Co-operative Creameries, by Dairy Farmers of Britain.

 “I have signed up to DFB before the end-of-the-month deadline, but I am keeping my options open for the new milk year.”

Mr Crosbie Dawson has received some good news for life under the new single farm payment. He invited the Game Conservancy Trust to advise him on measures to help the grey partridge flourish on Freefolk’s acres, and to see what else he needed to do to secure entry level scheme (ELS) payments, which are expected to claw back about £30/ha (£12/acre) of SFP modulation deductions.

“They were very impressed with the efforts we have made so far to encourage a diverse range of wildlife, particularly with the 2m margins we have established,” he says. “They are now advising that I sow some 6m strips of brood cover which will help greatly towards my ELS points. I will need to establish 0.5ha per 20ha under cultivation.”

He was also advised that all of his woodland and broad hedgerows would be eligible for SFP payment if he qualifies for ELS. With 24ha (60 acres) set to qualify, it is an opportunity he intends not to miss.