Goodbye campus, hello combine

Harvest is in full swing here in South Lincolnshire, with all of the barley cut and half of our wheat in the shed.

Wheat generally hangs on well into the first week of August thanks to the bodied land in this part of the country, though fortunately a happy combination of early ripening and a fine spell has enabled us to make fantastic early progress. I don’t ever remember combining wheat in July before, but there’s no argument with corn that arrives in the store at 14% moisture.

As I write with a thunderstorm bellowing overhead and an unsettled spell forecast for the immediate future though, I have to remind myself that we are in a very fortunate position compared with those in the north and west of the country. It’s not often that we’ve caught up with the ripe crop so early in the season and it’s important to be patient enough for the desiccant to do its job properly. Yields have been highly variable, though universally lower than what would be expected in a “normal” year. Pearl barley averaged exactly 2.5t/acre whilst first wheats have been running at just shy of 4t. Second wheats seems to have borne the brunt of the spring drought with yields ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 t/acre, though all are far better than what could have happened had the driest spring in 100 years carried on well into the summer.

With such a spread out farm it takes three of us carting just to keep up with one combine, and I’ve been spending the past few afternoons and evenings gunning round the district with a 12t trailer. With dry wheat coming straight off the combine, it’s been nice to fill up an old store first leaving the main shed empty should it turn wet.

The cress that we grow for seed has been swathed and is currently in the vulnerable state of being fit enough to thrash out but with a stem too green to get through a combine. It is a particularly risky crop given the current trend in unsettled Augusts, and careful thought has been given as to whether to carry on growing it.

Unlike in previous years, both the pea vining season and a busy cereal harvest spell have clashed, meaning that I’ve effectively been running two shifts over the past week. It’s been a frustratingly long pea vining season, and as I write it’s still ongoing. A combination of an exceptionally warm drilling period, dry spring and cool July has conspired to create gaps in the campaign lasting from a couple of days to a week, and with around 600 acres left in the field the end is getting closer, but is still not on the immediate horizon. I have to be honest and say that after nine weeks of getting up at 3.30am every morning, I’m ready for a couple of days off.

The season so far has thankfully been largely uneventful, and bar the viners being blocked into a field by all of the cars attending a rave (on, of all places, a sea bank next to a marsh) it’s been fairly reasonable. In a scene reminiscent of the Fast Show though, last week I put my bag down next to my van when out strolls a massive Doberman with a bit of rope round its neck that it had clearly chewed through. I wasn’t going to argue with the Sebastien Chabal of the dog world, and as I retreated to the other side of the car it predictably cocked its leg on my dinner bag and looked at me, whilst growling, as if to ask what the hell I was doing. Equally predictably, after it had gone I ate the sandwich that was in the bag.

Okay, just to clarify I didn’t do the last bit.

I can’t wait to head back to Nottingham in six weeks’ time and make a start on my final year. I’ve got to go back a few days early to help organise fresher’s week, and if you’re coming to Sutton Bonington in September, I hope you’ll have a really great time.

19-year-old Michael Neaverson is a Crop Science student at the University of Nottingham, where he is also president of the Agricultural Society.

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