Dennis Ford

5 February 1999

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk,

North Yorks. The medium

sandy loam in the Vale of

York supports potatoes,

winter wheat, rape and

barley, plus grass for sheep

NOTHING has changed since my last ramblings; it has never once dried up and the perpetual rain, drizzle, snow, cloud, mist, and flooding from the River Swale has prevented any land work, let alone the drilling and spraying still to do.

While I have not been farming for donkeys years, like some, this is definitely the wettest autumn/winter I have ever known. Even my eternal optimism has been dented, so I am off to water-ski across the flooded fields!

At least the Environment Agency has been kept busy issuing yellow and red flood alerts. Talking of which, the new groundwater regulations appear to me to be a costly exercise of little benefit. If people complain of filling in IACS and assurance scheme forms, just wait until you receive these long and complicated quizzes.

The only thing these groundwater rules will achieve is to increase the threat of surface-water pollution. Those affected will have to store the spray washings and sheep dip until the appropriate time of the year when we can dispose of the "water". Storage of any waste leads to risks and I would have thought the £20m would be better spent on preventing surface water pollution from industry and sewage plants, etc.

We are becoming such a nanny state that I wonder if any politician or civil servant in the European Commission or our government has heard of common sense. It would not surprise me if future footpath notices had to carry the following message: "If caught short on your walk please phone the Department of the Environment and Trade for permission to pee."

I have to say that while I am pleased the ministry has finally asked all farmers about their views on the future of agriculture, I find the questions bland and uninspiring. Perhaps Oliver Walston should have scripted the form for Mr Brown. That would have been interesting and guaranteed a vigorous response.

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) as the tenant

of Branthill Farm, part of

the Holkham Estate,

Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

Sugar beet lies at the heart

of the rotation, with other

crops including winter

barley,wheat and oats,

spring barley and triticale

OLIVER Walston brags about his IACS cheque as though it were a rather embarrassing extra Christmas present from the bureaucrats in Brussels.

Like many tenant farmers who have 75% of their farm in cereals, my IACS cheque is swallowed up by my rent. I resent his programme painting the picture of the typical East Anglian farmer as owning 800ha (2000 acres) of prime arable land. In fact he is one of a privileged top 10%.

But I do agree with Oliver about the unsustainable madness of setting out to grow crops for which there is no real market. Although I realise intervention has been an invaluable tool to put a floor in the cereal market, I have never sold a grain of corn into it yet. I would regard such a sale as an absolute last resort and an admission of marketing failure on my part.

It is still too wet to start spring barley drilling and in this the last week of January I am getting keen to get some in soon. No doubt Mother Nature will see to it that after this deluge, over 80mm (3in) in the month, we will have a dry spring. That is a bad scenario for late drilled spring barley on this light land.

I have been working out gross margins on my cereals and only the Riband wheat and Regina winter barley show positive figures, courtesy of their well above average yields last year. The premium for Halcyon malting barley did not compensate enough for the lower yield of 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre) and the spring barley at 5.9t/ha (2.4t/acre) only just breaks even thanks to its reduced growing costs.

We finished sugar beet harvesting on Jan 11 and now await a modification to the front rotor-topper blades of our Tim harvester. I hope they will then withstand the occasional flint and not disintegrate with the monotonous regularity that they have this season.

Oliver Walston does not represent the typical East Anglian farmer, says north Norfolk grower Teddy Maufe. But he does have a point about growing for markets.

Oliver Walston does not represent the typical East Anglian farmer, says north Norfolk grower Teddy Maufe. But he does have a point about growing for markets.

Early daffodil picking is underway on James Hoskings Cornish farm, but not much else. The spring workload is getting congested with no fertiliser or cereal herbicides applied yet and the main daffodil crop to come.

James Hosking

James Hosking farms 516ha

(1275 acres) with his

parents and brother at

Fentongollan, Tresillian,

Truro, Cornwall. Land is

equally split between share

farming, various FBTs and a

tenancy. Crops include

wheat, oats, barley and

daffodils, alongside sheep

and cattle enterprises

I HAD hoped the January weather might be a little kinder and let us catch up with our outstanding autumn work.

Instead we have had our record rainfall, or at least a record for the 10 years that I have been recording it. Our only field work since Christmas has been one fungicide spray on 20ha (50 acres) of daffodils.

Irritatingly we still have about 6ha (15 acres) of winter wheat and 8ha (20 acres) of oats to drill. The wheat is in a partially drilled field, so I am particularly keen to get it finished. But the oat seed can stay in the shed for next autumn. I think the field will be drilled with linseed instead.

No compound fertiliser has been applied yet, nor have any cereal herbicides. It looks as though these jobs will have to be fitted in while we are in the middle of flower picking, stretching our resources.

The daffodils have been threatening to start for several weeks now, but short cold snaps keep holding them back. Last week we did start picking our main early varieties and the price has been holding up well so far. We will have to wait to see what happens when the large volumes reach the markets.

If it carries on being so wet, one of our biggest headaches will be mud on the roads from the tractors hauling the flowers out of fields back to the farm. The tolerance level of the public here seems to fall every year.

Our cattle are all housed and look well on round bale silage. But the sheep are not enjoying the weather. The ground is so wet that a lot of the grass gets trodden in before they get a chance to eat it.

Managing ewes and lambs is a labour intensive business when conditions are so bad. Fortunately, our extra work has paid off with few losses so far and, I hope, we will be able to market most of them around Easter.

Dennis Ford

Dennis Ford farms 384ha

(950 acres) from Home

Farm, Hinton Parva,

Swindon, Wilts. One-third is

owned, two-thirds tenanted

and a small area contract

farmed. Cropping is winter

wheat, barley, rape and

beans, plus spring rape,

linseed and flax

AS one door closes, another opens. Lesley, who has been the backbone of the farm office, has handed in her notice. We wish her well and I hope it was not the strain of working with me that prompted her departure.

That means I will have to get stuck in with the office work. Returning to the old regime of Sarah, who has been on extended maternity leave, will be a good discipline. She does our books from her home and can be "rather dominant" but will no doubt keep me, the office and the budget in a straight line.

Little field work has been possible recently. We did get some base fertiliser to the light land crops, largely thanks to the Frazier Agribuggy and low ground pressure tyres. Once we had become used to our new spreader, the system worked well, allowing us to apply very close to the required amounts despite some steep slopes. One field received 75kg/ha (60 units/acre) of phosphate and potash as a compound, while the other two had 57kg/ha (46 units/acre) of phosphate as TSP and 150kg/ha (120 units/acre) of potash as MOP respectively.

Mike, our agronomist, and I have finally worked out the remaining spring cropping. We had been toying with the idea of putting winter oilseed rape into industrial contracts and using this land as set-aside. However, as a great fence-balancer, I have decided to put only half into industrial cropping, allowing us to plant more of the light land to Optic spring barley, and put a small amount into linseed.

This week we have been in the demolition business, taking down a shed for a local earthworks firm. Besides being paid to do this, we will take the building back to the farm and re-erect it at our leisure. It will be a general store initially, but with grain walling and a concrete floor would make a useful grain store for the twenty-first century.

Wilts grower Dennis Ford has managed to get base fertilisers onto his light land. A new spreader means accurate applications even on the slopes.

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