A sense of humour vital
IN THE run-up to harvest, one of the more pleasurable days has always been the A1 Farmers annual farm walk, followed by dinner in the evening, which is known affectionately as "the jolly".
As a machinery sharing and agronomy group A1 Farmers has existed for nearly 30 years. The six farming members are different in their farming enterprises and management style but maintain a strong friendship and a co-operative bond. Most noticeable to those outside the circle is perhaps their distinctive and peculiar sense of humour. That trait has never been more important than now in these times of hardship and adversity.
An example may be found in the line up of accolades to be awarded by an independent judge at the end of the day. These include: The Chairmans Cup for best wheat crop and the Roger Reynolds Memorial Trophy for worst crop. The latter is an attractive silver antique tractor which members are known to go to any lengths to win.
The day starts off with coffee supplied by chairman, John Bradshaw and an explanation of the rules by one-time agronomist to the group, Dr Derek Hall. A strict rotation of farm visiting is adhered to with all six members given their allotted time.
Lunch, supplied by Margaret Bradshaw, is normally taken al fresco. A strawberry tea courtesy of Michael and Pat Armitage of the William Scott Abbott Trust provides a welcome afternoon break.
The aim is to show off the best wheat crop on the farm, which has to be pleasing to the eye and supported by sound costings. The best wheat gross margin normally takes The Chairmans Cup plus a bottle of champagne from last years winner.
This years entries included two crops of Malacca, two of Equinox, one of Claire and a crop of Maverick. Variable costs of production range between £140.58/ha (£56.90/acre) to £228.08/ha (£92.34/acre). Anticipated yields varied between 8-11.75t/ha (3.2-4.8t/acre). Gross margins before area aid payments were calculated on the assumption that feed wheat was worth £70/t and the premium for a class one milling wheat would be £15/t.
The range of gross margins was between £489.42/ha (£198.15/acre) to £600.39/ha (£243.07/acre). We also took into account soil type, blackgrass and wild oat control, basal fertiliser use, milling or feed variety. But, ultimately, its the margin that counts and if the crop looks good and the ear count seems to sustain the claims for yield, the judge will declare it the winner. This year W A Fuller and Son took the cup with a crop of Equinox.
As for the coveted prize of the silver antique tractor, this went to our chairmans son Michael Bradshaw. With the help of the River Nene flooding its banks, Michael produced an awful crop of oilseed rape for us to gloat over.
Back to reality and all is now ready for harvest. The grain store has been thoroughly cleaned by farm staff and sprayed by contractor. A disproportionate amount of time has been spent over the past few weeks attempting to make hay on our site of special scientific interest, but with little success. Every time we have been almost ready to bale, it has rained yet again.
Repairs and maintenance work to machinery and buildings are complete and we are waiting to see whether it will be the grass seed or the winter barley which will be ready to cut first.
The oilseed rape is fast beginning to turn, which will be a close third. That has neither been swathed or sprayed and will be cut, dried down and delivered to a local merchant store for £113/t.
The wheat looks some way off yet and I am glad we have not been tempted to sell forward and supply ex-combine in the first week of August.
The peas too look well. Although sown later than I prefer, they have made up well but since we are growing new varieties, it is too soon to predict the result.
We are currently fabricating a big bale spike to mount on the front of the JCB teleporter to stack and load quadrant big bales. We have decided to contract out 30% of our straw baling to a neighbour to trial the big bales this year and hope to extend their use to 50% next year. That will make the handling of straw both simpler and cheaper.
All smiles among the machinery-sharing and agronomy group, AIFarmers, despite the uncertain weather. A day spent touring members farms provides valuable relaxation, and some information, before the onslaught of harvest, according to farms manager, John Lambkin (second right).