F&M sees switch to cereals

22 June 2001

F&M sees switch to cereals

Growing cereals in place of

livestock slaughtered

because of foot-and-mouth

disease has not been a

straightforward matter, as

south-west correspondent

John Burns reports

MICHAEL Underhills 1500 ewes, with their lambs, and more than 100 beef cattle were slaughtered on April 19 and 20 after foot-and-mouth was confirmed at his farm, Upcott Barton, Beaford, north Devon.

That left him with very little time before the IACS deadline to decide what to do with his land. It was also late for drilling cereals, even assuming seed could be found.

Normally Mr Underhill grows only 8-12ha of cereals. "Im a stockman, not a corn farmer. I dont like growing cereals," he says.

The farm includes 80ha (200 acres) of registered arable land, which it is now clear could all have been entered for set-aside, including grassland. But that was not clear at the time.

"In any case Ive always used the simplified IACS scheme, so I just dont think in terms of set-aside," he says. Instead, he turned to local merchant J Pickard and Co of Burrington for cropping advice.

"I like to deal with smaller local companies, where you know everyone and if anything goes wrong, they will put it right. And they will buy grain off you if you have any spare," says Mr Underhill.

"They found me 25 acres of spring barley seed and suggested I put another 50 acres into spring oats on the grounds that we would be ploughing up old grassland, which might be a bit acid for barley. There wasnt time to test and lime, and oats seed was easier to find than barley."

Apart from a combine, Mr Underhill has his own cereal-growing equipment. The weather was kind and the seed went into good seedbeds in the first week of May.

Sales of spring cereal seed by Pickard were astronomical, says agronomist Brian Symons. "Some of it was due to wet weather preventing winter cereals being sown in time, but most of the extra sales were because of foot-and-mouth. Our patch has been badly hit and until MAFF made clear that grassland on registered arable fields could be entered for set-aside, most people who had lost all their livestock decided to grow as much corn as possible.

"Barley is an obvious choice here. You get grain for feeding or sale, and straw that is always valuable in this area. Oats are fine if you can feed them yourself, but not so easy to sell as barley."

When the earlier crops started to come through, crop walking was still not permitted, so Mr Symons had to advise his clients by telephone, on the basis of his local knowledge and detailed field records kept for 15 years.

More recently, MAFF has allowed crop-walking in specified circumstances, but always under licence. Distinction is made between Form A premises and others.

Before visiting fields on a Form A farm, a licence must be obtained. It may be just for that visit, or an open licence, stating where the agronomist is allowed to go on the farm.

"I carry disinfectant and sprayer, and wear wellingtons, waterproof leggings and a white all-over disposable protective suit, which after the visit has to be sent to MAFF for burning," says Mr Symons. "Its one suit for each farm visit.

"I have to record the time and date of the visits and which fields I walked, though I would do that anyway. I try to park by the roadside near the field, and I disinfect everything thoroughly between farms."

Mr Symons tries to arrange visits so that on Form A farm days he does not visit any other category. Such decisions, extra phone calls and disinfection at each farm, all slow his work rate.

The same is true for Pickard office staff and delivery vehicles. "Farms have to be phoned before deliveries are made, and wherever possible, farmyards are avoided. We reckon it now takes six days to do what we would normally do in five. The on-costs for Pickard must be considerable."

Getting sprays applied has not proved too difficult, says Mr Symons. Where contractors are used, there are extra problems of licences, cleaning and disinfection procedures for vehicles and equipment.

"But we have noticed a definite trend to more farmers having their own sprayers, or three or four joining together and sharing one. They have found its not too clever relying on contractors in catchy seasons." &#42


&#8226 Set-aside rules unclear.

&#8226 Spring barley popular.

&#8226 Crops in late, but OK.

&#8226 Agronomists helpful.

&#8226 Early advice by phone.

&#8226 Field-walking now allowed.

&#8226 Precautions mean work takes 20% longer.

F&M impact

The impact of foot-and-mouth on both farmers and people in the ancillary trades should not be underestimated, says Mr Symons. "I hope I never have to live through anything like this again – the stress and fear among farmers. I know those with foot-and-mouth have been compensated, but its hard to describe the profound shock of losing all the stock they have spent their lives breeding and realising how long it will take to recover. Almost all the ones I know will be restocking when they can, though it is far too early to make definite detailed plans."

Input options

With all field walking banned in early spring, Mr Symons relied heavily on broad-spectrum herbicide Harmony (metsulfuron-methyl + thifensulfuron-methyl) for winter wheat and spring barley. It can be applied any time from early emergence to GS39, and deals with most of the common weeds in the area, such as polygonums, chickweed, docks and hemp nettle.

For oats, he used Jubilee (metsulfuron-methyl) and tended not to use a fungicide except near the coast, where crown rust can be troublesome.

To protect spring barley against diseases, he used Colstar (fenpropimorph + flusilazole). "It has good curative and protective properties against most of our barley diseases," says Mr Symons. "Ideally applied at mid-tillering, it will give four to five weeks protection."

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