6 July 2001


Ian Piggott

Ian Pigott farms 690ha

(1700 acres) of owned,

rented, share-farmed and

contract-farmed land in

partnership with his father

from Thrales End,

Harpenden, Herts. Wheat,

oilseed rape, spring barley,

beans and peas are the main

crops on the flinty,

medium clay soils

AS the young turk about the farm, I find it frustrating when the old man comes up with the good ideas.

One of our farms stores has been a bottleneck at harvest for the past 20 years due to a temperamental pit, elevator, conveyor and cleaner system. An extra man is always needed just to keep the system running.

"Why dont we rip it out and concrete the front of the shed up to drying floor level," suggested my father. The sample is clean enough off the combine and the forklift can heap the grain up. A cheap and labour saving idea giving an extra 150t storage capacity. Now, why didnt I think of that? My job was to get on with alterations, including laying 20m of concrete, which I chose to do on the hottest day of the year. Brains before brawn, as they say.

We have walked the crops to assess the success of this years spray programmes and, with my optimistic hat on, I have to say some of those planted in appalling conditions look better than we may have expected. But with my pessimistic hat on I prefer to tilt the brim forward so I cant even see the offending fields.

That said, the crops look pretty clean and we have no intention of applying ear washes. Nor have we seen any sign of orange blossom midges so the sprayer has only been out on aphids in peas. Malacca and spring wheats will get 200 litres/ha of Nufol delivering 40kg/ha of N at the milky ripe stage. Some decent proteins would strengthen our marketing position. Glyphosate will go on the dirty rape crops and selected cereal headlands with couch and other unwanted grasses.

Next years rotation has been planned, in pencil, and budgets drawn up, an exercise which brings home the financial impact of farmings "annus horribilis". We cannot expect to fill the extra storage space I have created and only hope for better things next year! &#42

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

AN inch or so of rain is the final input the crops need. January-sown wheats on thinner land are starting to suffer from drought, but direct-drilled spring crops still look remarkably healthy.

But another dry week and it may be a different story.

In the middle of June, suffering from severe "show and Cereals" deficiency symptoms, my brother and I visited the French event, Les Culturales. The organisers, ITCF, had done a first class job. On entry one was greeted with a market requirement display, then you were shown what the international opposition from Canada, the US and Australia could do and at what price.

The entire event was geared towards helping growers make best use of the latest technology and competing on the world stage. There was an excellent display of reduced tillage machinery – not the equipment best suited for road building that one would find in the UK, but machines that would operate on a 130-150hp tractor, enabling the 200-400ha (500-1000 acre) farmer to convert to the system economically.

At last years RASE Cereals event I got the message that if you were not farming 1000ha (2500 acres) and did not own at least one rubber-tracked crawler you were history. Amalgamate to stay in business, they said. Last autumn demonstrated that big is not always beautiful and we are beginning to see the "advantages" of some of these farm amalgamations – vast areas of set-aside and spring rape; not a blueprint for improving profit!

After Les Culturales we visited an on-farm cover-crop demonstration just west of Paris. Crops such as mustard and phacelia had been sown immediately after harvest and destroyed before wheat drilling in October. Not only are the French growers hoping to reduce costs with such techniques but also to attract future environmental payments. It looks like being the next step on the reduced-tillage, ICM ladder.

Coming home to four more years of Blair and Beckett makes the Overseas Farms for Sale (France) section in FW have even more appeal. &#42

John Jeffrey

John Jeffrey runs two

tenanted farms in

partnership with his father

from Kersknowe, near Kelso

in the Scottish Borders.

Two-thirds of the 730ha

(1800 acres) is arable,

growing seed potatoes, oilseed rape, wheat and

winter and spring barley

I HAVE had a great chance to look at all my crops in fine detail over the past fortnight, as I have been standing in for the sprayerman who has been on holiday.

With wheats needing ear sprays, barleys a rhynco and ramularia spray, oilseed rape a pollen beetle spray, and the potatoes down to a seven-day blight spray interval due to thundery weather I have been exceedingly busy. From the sprayer cab crops look thin and disappointing. We need a long hot July to help them fill out.

My spraying adventure ended in tears as normally happens when you give a laddie a mans job.

I seriously misjudged my turning circle and ended up wrapping the boom round a telegraph pole much to the enjoyment of all my neighbours. It is amazing how quickly this sort of news passes around the neighbourhood.

I have been involved in a local charity for farmers and businesses who have been hit by foot-and-mouth and the fund-raising culminated in a gala dinner and auction. Rory Bremner very kindly agreed to speak free of charge and we ended up raising £128,000 to distribute to all sectors of our local rural community.

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Bedfordshire NFU annual dinner in a wonderful converted 16th century barn. It was great to meet and speak with fellow farmers from a different region and also beat our hosts at golf in the afternoon. The evening was a great success, with the highlight undoubtedly being the "performance" of the local NFU Chairman.

I, unfortunately, had to sing for my supper, but enjoyed the opportunity to ask such thought provoking questions as: "How can England seriously claim to be a top International cricket team when they get bowled out for 86?" After the dinner I was enticed to sample the nightlife in Stevenage which, when the taxi eventually found the suggested venue, turned out to be a gay nightclub. I think the Beds NFU committee definitely got the last laugh. &#42

Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford farms 570ha

(1425 acres) of rented land

from Ashley Hall,Altrincham,

Cheshire, growing crisping

and pre-pack potatoes, milling

wheat, oilseed rape and beans.

He also owns and manages

2000ha (5000 acres) of mainly

arable land in Australia

WELL done FABBL for coming into the ring for crop assurance.

It is funny how Assured Combinable Crops can now reduce their subscription fee isnt it? Have they been taking us for a ride or what?

With everything planted and growing the pressure is off here in Cheshire. Strangely, last planted potatoes will probably overtake the first that went into seed-beds that were very wet and cold. Only a few loads are left to go out of coldstore, but the price has collapsed. The last 100t will not pay for their keep.

Cereals look a little better now, but yields will not be good. Large wet areas and bald patches will drag the average down. Enquiries for straw have been phenomenal and it is a shame to have to turn customers away.

Our footpath through the farm was reopened in mid-June and the trespass and associated problems started again. Then, a fortnight ago, a ministry vet arrived and placed a "Form A" notice on us. No movement on or off the farm; we were effectively closed down. Apparently, the notice should have been enforced on the day the sheep were slaughtered here last March, but had somehow been overlooked. Unbelievable. The notice has now been lifted except for on one field, but the footpath is closed again.

The British Potato Council has dropped its case against me regarding my late payment of levy for non-harvested crop.

Other growers phonecalls of support have been very encouraging. Surely it is time for a rethink of the BPC.

On the farm in Australia the kangaroos seem to be behaving themselves but "lucerne flea" is proving a nuisance. The canola has been sprayed for the creatures which eat little round patches into the leaves, leaving transparent windows.

The only way you spot them is to brush the leaves with the back of your hand and watch them leap to another leaf. &#42

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