Farmer Focus: RPA demanding money back over ‘erosion risk’

Spring has sprung with a whimper. It had been so wet at the beginning of spring drilling that we had to pick fields to drill.

After reviewing last year’s figures, we decided poor winter crops didn’t do as well as decent spring crops, so have pulled some up and redrilled with spring varieties. It’s an expensive practice and one we don’t want to make a habit of.

Jo was passionate about moisture conservation while drilling and we were super careful about cultivation choice and making sure rolling was done right behind the drill. 

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I was very sceptical, since in some fields we almost had standing water, but three weeks later with no rain and a dry forecast, she was been proven right.

Crops with Mzuri and Claydon cultivators behind grazed cover crops have both established well, and we are excited to see how they progress throughout the year compared with our usual min-till/full-till. 

Sheep were moved to the lambing paddocks in April, but with no rain and bitterly cold temperatures, covers were very low.

Writing this in mid-April, the ewes are in great condition, have some high-energy buckets and are still probably two to three weeks from peak lactation. But we need warmer weather.

If grass is short, we could move lambing ewes into fields with solar panels, but it’s tricky to see them lambing and we would have to bowser water.

At least everything has been drilled into moist soils and 90% of the crops planted have emerged already.

But without warmer temperatures, plants won’t get roots down in time before the top layer of soil dries out. A third year of disappointing yields is looking possible. 

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has told us that one of the grass leys we put in three years ago was in a field with erosion risk.

They want all the money from the last three years back in 60 days or we will be faced with high interest rates and court action.

I wonder if I can charge them interest for the two years’ we waited for our money?

We will have to plough to turn a “soil erosion risk” grass field into a late barley crop. It’s madness – the system is broken.

See Rob and Jo Hodgkins’ biography