Farmer Focus: Beef is good, but harvest is a salvage job

Isn’t farming brilliant? 2020 – the year that just keeps on giving. I write this in between showers, or rather, large deluges of rain.

The trouble with having all your eggs in one basket is that it tends to bite you later on. Spring barley harvest is painful.

Normally we grow about 40ha (100 acres) of barley – this year we’ve had to grow 242ha (600 acres). There are acres of crop that are pinned to the floor, damaged by the weather.

The header on the combine is so low it’s almost like a bulldozer. We are pushing soil from one end of the field to the other.

The combine feels like a disabled Lancaster bomber running on three Merlins gently falling back in the bomber stream. It’s unable to keep up with the corn cart or the dryer.

See also: Harvest 2020 news

In real terms we are about two weeks behind where we should be. Drivers and machines are swapping between getting the harvest in and trying to drill oilseed rape.

The drilling team is getting on far better than the harvest team.

We are just about going to scrape our bale count, and with yields of spring barley varying between 8.15t/ha (3.3t/acre) on the better land to just above 1t/acre on the strong land, we’ll have a fair heap to feed going forward.

Fat cattle prices remain strong, with commercial animals running at about £3.78/kg-plus.

This is the level we need to be at in an unsubsidised world. There is a general buzz in the beef industry at the moment as we seem to be the consumer’s sweetheart.

This needs maintaining and then every part of the beef supply chain can prosper.

Feedlotting is exciting at the moment, with a good intake of cattle in the yard and a good show of forward numbers waiting in the wings.

The cattle that are being presented to me are fairly fit and will only be on the farm for about 60 days before being ready to be replaced.

After spending hours trying to bleed up the fuel lines on a machine recently and completely losing it with my eldest daughter, it was gently pointed out to me the tank was empty – I’ll call that harvest fatigue.

Doug Dear farms 404ha of arable land and runs a custom feedyard, contract-finishing 1,500-1,700 cattle a year near Selby, North Yorkshire. Cattle are finished to deadweight specifications as well as sold at Selby Auction Mart.