Sometimes the most significant events in the farming year can sneak by almost unnoticed. The other day, for instance, I was leafing through Cropdoctor Tod’s huge sheaf of agri-prescriptions to see what was next on the very lengthy mid-May list.
Wheats – done. Oilseed rape – done. Winter beans – not quite ready yet. And there it was: all the winter barley – heck of a lot this year – needed a little top-up of fungicide as the ears were emerging.
At first glance, this job is a flipping nuisance. The winter barley is mostly at the far end of the farm, and it’s a hell of a hike to trundle all that way having put only 10 litres of stuff in a 3,200 litre tank.
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And then there’s the damage done by the tractor wheels. I gave up putting narrows on the tractor and trailed sprayer ages ago, after a scary mid-barn battle with a fiendishly heavy row crop wheel.
I had rolled it across the barn, all nicely under control, and was manoeuvring it back and forth, trying to line it up with the tractor’s studs – this was before the days of clever wheel rollers/cradles.
Moment of truth
But then I tipped it back just that bit too much, and it started to drop on me. It was one of those slow-motion events, as it dawned on me that I was not as strong as I used to be, and there was every chance of something horrible happening.
Somehow, I won the battle, but with a lower back spasm that ruled out tractor work for three days anyway.
So now, I’m on conventional tractor wheels all year round. And, in places, they do make a mess of a winter barley crop that is just beginning to mature nicely: the loops on the headland where you turn back on yourself, and the corner bits where you try to reverse neatly – but never do.
You can almost hear delight in the local rook population as I open up new landing zones for them.
But there are benefits – and not just the agronomic ones that the Cropdoctor assures me will result. The awns of barley clean up the underside of the Deere, brushing off the rust left by the late liquid fertiliser application in the milling wheats.
And in a normal year, it sweeps off the layer of mud that has gathered – a perfect chance to park up on the grass, roll underneath with the grease gun and soothe those terribly neglected UJ nipples.
The best moment comes as you’re folding up the booms, and you realise that that’s it for the winter barley for this year (assuming no pre-harvest glyphosate, of course); next time this field sees a machine, it will be the combine.
It’s the first crop of this arable year on which we are “locking the gates” – a term that used to be metaphorical, but as hideous anti-poacher gates become more and more common, it’s a literal one, too.
In a few weeks, the rest of the farm will be put to bed, and we can stop watching the weather forecast for a bit.
That late fungicide, as tiresome as it is, is the arable equivalent of rounding the last bend. The finishing line is harvest. And another year will be done.
By the way, if anyone wants some very reasonably priced and only lightly used 12.4R46 or 11.2R32 wheels on MF centres (complete with unused JD centres), or some 18.4R26s that were originally on a Claas Protector Six, you know where to come.
Just don’t ask me to help load them for you.