Opinion: Great autumn, shame about the price prospects

This has been one of the easiest autumns ever. We drilled the oilseed rape and rolled it in to preserve moisture and make it as uncomfortable as possible for slugs in mid-August as soon as the winter barley was combined.

A few days later, over the bank holiday weekend, we had 7mm of rain, which was ideal. And then over the next few days we sprayed with a pyrethroid in the hope it would work against flea beetles. Apparently it did and, as I write, we have well-established crops on all fields with little or no sign of beetle damage. Our agronomist assures me the plants are too big to be harmed much now and we are also gratifyingly free of slug damage.

See also: Opinion: It may be time to put the brakes on food production

Why we have been fortunate while many others have suffered serious losses from the insects, I can only guess. Perhaps it’s because rape is one of our minor crops; or perhaps we drilled early enough to avoid the worst infestation. Who knows? But at the moment we feel very lucky.

However, that rain over the holiday is virtually all we’ve had. We missed out on the cloudbursts in mid-September, which flooded many in eastern England, some only a few miles from here. All we had was three hours of thunder rolling across the sky, a lot of black cloud and three drops.

As I write, after barely measurable precipitation since we drilled during the dry spell, we’re becoming concerned by a lack of moisture to bring on the autumn cereals. But the drilling operation was a doddle and, because of the clement weather, went on uninterrupted for several days.

Some fields where there was a bit of trash in the rape and bean stubbles were ploughed pre-drilling, not least to help limit any blackgrass problems that might be developing.

The fact that we always plough before sugar beet to bury muck that’s been spread and provide spring seed-beds means our blackgrass problem is pretty well under control. But we do as much minimal cultivation pre-wheat and winter barley as possible to keep costs down.

Both systems appear to have worked well this year and all fields have been rolled to discourage slugs.

The earliest drilled wheats are emerging nicely, although could do with that rain I am calling for, and by the end of the third week in September all but about 40ha of wheat had been drilled and was looking satisfactory.

That 40ha still has sugar beet growing on it and root yields will increase if they’re left in the ground for a while yet. It’s always a difficult balance to decide when to lift the roots and sacrifice yield in favour of next year’s wheat crop.

But we bit the bullet with 20ha of beet. Test digs suggested the roots were bigger this year than ever before in September and likely to produce an economic yield so we harvested them to cash in on free loading into the sugar factory and to be able to plant winter cereals in the same land.

It took two days to clear the beet and, a day after that, the land was drilled with winter barley.

Two days later and all the roots had gone to the factory, avoiding dehydration in the clamp. It was all very satisfactory.

But isn’t it sad that, according to current knowledge of future prices, prospects for profit from both cereals and sugar beet next year are virtually nil.

David Richardson farms about 400ha of arable land near Norwich, Norfolk, in partnership with his wife Lorna and his son Rob.

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