OPINION: Wheat field is ‘scrappy-looking’ picture

After last year’s nightmarish muddling-in and puddling-in of crops, I thought I’d really put the work into my first wheats.

 “Well sown is half grown”, as they say. Take Big Field, for instance. At harvest, it yielded an OSR crop that was a monument to mediocrity, but was cleared nice and early. We hit it with the big discs, left it a couple of weeks, and then hit it again with the Carrier. Perfect.

The perfect conditions held for drilling wheat, and then rolling it in, and then, at my agronomist’s insistence, a very lively pre-emergence grass weed concoction. When we closed the metaphorical gate on Big Field, it could not have looked better. It stank, but that’s Liberator/Defy for you.

Now, every drillman in the country knows that there then follows the most nerve-wracking time of the arable year. What’s going on under the ground? Was the seed deep enough? Are the slugs hard at work? Did I put the seed in the right way up (old drillman’s joke)? This year, the period of uncertainly was amazingly short – the warm moist conditions meant that crops were germinating and racing away in an astonishingly short time. 

As it started to emerge, something didn’t look right. The fabulous green carpet seemed to be interrupted just a bit too often by unsown strips. In addition to the nice regular tramlines, the whole field had extra brown stripes. It looked like a 52-acre barcode. After a few days, I abandoned the hope that these were rows that had somehow gone in too deep, and realised that something was amiss in the drill.

With a heavy heart and equally heavy gloves, I climbed in, and undid the lid of the “mushroom” distributor. I found every drillman’s worst fear: two large lumps of seed dressing had somehow sneaked through the seed hopper’s mesh, and lodged firmly in two of the twelve spouts. Two out of twelve is a lot. At times like this, I’m glad I don’t farm near a main road.

Then Big Field stopped being green, and went yellow. The fantastic growing conditions meant that the grass weed herbicide was giving the wheat a hard time, too. My long-suffering agronomist remained unconcerned, though. If the wheat’s feeling a bit sick, just imagine what the weeds are feeling, he said. The crop will recover. When I pointed out how green the next-door Clare was, he explained that most of the verdant lushness came from volunteer beans and a thriving population of broad-leaf weeds – not wheat.

And now the caravan-dwelling fraternity have once again found Big Field, and realised that a combination of billiard table smoothness and a healthy population of hares means it’s the perfect spot to exercise their Human Right to drive all over the field in their completely legally insured and taxed Subaru Foresters, giving their long dogs a good workout at the same time. 

So poor old Big Field looks a bit sad and sorry for itself. It has greened up a bit, but still has the sort of ochre/green hue normally only found in a yuppie’s paint brochure. The blocked spouts are looking a bit less awful as the wheat tries to grow away and starts to tiller. And vast sweeping turns of high-speed motorised hare-coursing, looking like giant question marks, add to the general scrappy-looking picture. Not so much “well sown is half grown” as “blooming mess, let’s hope for the best”.

Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire

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