23 November 2001


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

AFTER the warmest October in history, we were brought back down to earth with the arrival of November – five degrees of frost and 75mm (3in) of snow.

That sudden cold snap finally put all the crops to sleep for the winter and has hopefully done the same for the slugs and mildew. The sprayer was put into hibernation and the quad bike returned to the hill farm where the shepherd had not taken too kindly to Shankss pony.

But winters sudden onset introduced a new pest into one of my wheat fields. Within a week I had two boy racers marooned in the middle of it. Now, it might be pure co-incidence, but we had just had the local Jim Clark memorial rally held around here. Not only is there a fence to repair as new but there are the horrible dirty great tracks – rather like my neighbours tramlines – where they were towed out. Like the tramlines, they will be visible all year.

Conference season is on again with the same old titles – Sustainability in Agriculture etc – only now we are asked to pay for the privilege of sleeping through the keynote speaker.

Our local discussion society meeting did attract my attention with our NFUS president Jim Walker pitted against Englands most popular farmer Oliver Walston. Unfortunately, Oliver has mellowed over the years and our anticipated early fireworks night did not go off.

However, Jim lived up to his nickname of Walker the Talker and left us in no doubt of the task ahead, especially with Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett in charge of our destiny. We are very fortunate to have someone like Jim to fight our corner and it was great news to hear he is prepared to serve another term of office.

We are always being told to broaden our horizons and learn from our peers. With this in mind, I am off to the US with three other local farmers to study of grassland management and weed control – on Floridas golf courses! &#42

John Jeffrey checks out the damage caused by a new winter wheat pest.

Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford farms 570ha

(1425 acres) of rented

ground 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

POTATO harvesting continues here in Cheshire despite very wet conditions, but the end is now in sight.

We shall overwinter 12ha (30 acres) lifted, windrowed and earthed up by contractor under a thick layer of peat soil that should keep them safe until spring. Hopefully skin finish will be better than if they had been in store.

Whites in store for packing look promising, but reds for crisping are a different story. Severe blackleg has led to rotting already and washing for the crisp factories is a most unpleasant job – again. Thank goodness we will never grow another crisping potato.

I cannot help noticing the increasing number of long letters in the farming Press from the parasitic quangos which feed off us farmers. They can see grower support waning so the chairmen and secretaries of these marketing authorities, assurance bodies and other levy-raising organisations are trying their best to justify their existence. But their words will not make up for the fact we dont get a return on our investment.

On our farm in Australia, haymaking is nearly complete. About 2500t in as many bales have been stacked under cover and are waiting for delivery instructions from our foreign buyers. Helpful neighbours have been very swift in collecting and transporting the hay by tractor and road train and I could not do without them.

By the time you read this, the combines should be rolling into noodle wheat with a projected yield of just over 2.5t/ha (1t/acre) – a reasonable result.

Several livestock companies out there are trying to persuade us to get into large "fat tail" Karrigal sheep for export. Rams are provided free and a fixed contract for the finished lambs offered at about A$70/lamb. But I think its too soon to get involved and there is much to learn yet.

Besides, I can just imagine the inevitable call wed get here in the UK at three oclock one morning: "Gday mate, your sheep are out!" &#42

Ian Crawford is making use of the insulation value of peat soil to store potatoes this winter.

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

THE cooler weather will hopefully slow down some our more forward crops.

Early-sown wheats have low levels of mildew which, unchecked, could become a problem. Barley as a third cereal is running out of nitrogen and turning yellow, while oilseed rape has developed badly stunted patches where it has turned red. I am reliably informed that it is a result of magnesium deficiency, low ph, waterlogging, and/or compaction. Take your pick.

For the first time in years, we completed our autumn weed control on time. On our land growing Hereward, hitting the weeds early and drilling in September is usually worth at least another 1.25t/ha (0.5t/acre) – the difference between profit and loss.

It was a pleasure to visit Agritechnica last week and be among German farmers whose incomes have actually increased by 2.1% over the past year . Using the same criteria, farm incomes in the UK have dropped by 41.1%. Consequently, the machinery manufacturers were all out to get their hands on some of this money with a lot of products being launched at the show.

Of particular interest was a hall devoted entirely to soil conservation. German farmers are able to claim a substantial grant when buying new equipment for conservation tillage as well as being able to claim an area payment for abandoning the plough, so not surprisingly there was a lot of interest in this area.

There was a real feeling that the various authorities are co-operating to help farmers change to practices that will reduce soil erosion and improve drinking water quality. Much research is being put into methods of reducing soil compaction, such as devices to change tyre pressures on the move and gps depth controlled cultivators.

Simple things, such as the correct setting of the baffle plates on the combine straw chopper for the optimum straw spread, are being looked at by Kiel University and ZALF were illustrating methods that encourage earthworms. There was even an experimental system for direct drilling potatoes. &#42

"You should see the conservation tillage kit they had at Agritechnica," says Jim Bullock after a trip to the German event.

Stewart Hayllor

Stewart Hayllor farms 343ha

(850 acres) of owned and

rented land from Blackler

Barton, Landscove, Devon,

growing cereals and

combinable breaks. Organic

vegetables occupy 24ha

(60 acres) and a further

160ha (400 acres) is farmed

on contract

HAVING decided to build a 20,000cu m winter-fill reservoir for irrigating our organic vegetables, I was keen to have it finished by the end of September while, in theory, soil conditions would still be good.

In the event, work didnt start until the end of October but near perfect weather since means progress has been uninterrupted and it is nearly finished.

This time last year we would have got stuck even with a hovercraft. Im now predicting the driest winter on record and well have a huge hole in the ground without enough water in it for a birdbath.

Cereal drilling has been a dream this autumn. All ploughed ground has worked down into excellent, fine, smooth and level seed-beds using the Speedtiller cultivator from Dowdeswell. Ive just heard that they are going to continue making them which is great news because as a product its up there on my A list – with Galaxy chocolate and Ally McBeal.

Our earlier drilled wheats have had an aphicide/herbicide mixture and later drilled crops a pre-emergence trifluralin at 2.3 litres/ha.

Clipper winter beans will soon be broadcast onto sprayed off stubbles and then ploughed in. Once thats done we should have all our seed planted – a sharp contrast to last years mountain of overwinter stock. If this good weather continues and we catch up with too much work Ill have no excuse not too build the garden wall that has been waiting at least five years.

As I write, the last of our organic potatoes are being harvested, with maincrop Cara destined to go into store for a while. Prices have dropped back this autumn reflecting an increased area becoming available plus the lateness of the season pushing many second earlies into the maincrop market.

Tighter prices mean we will have to produce bigger yields, top quality and in varieties that will sell. Thats the challenge for 2002 and, hopefully, irrigation will help us achieve that. &#42

Not a bag of seed left in the barn, says Stewart Hayllor who has been building a reservoir between other jobs at Landscove.

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