22 March 2002


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

HOPE springs eternal might as well be translated into spring hopes eternal. At this time of year we seem to forget that cereal prices are £55/t ex farm for harvest time and still plough on regardless, putting more cereals into the ground.

A couple of days of gale force winds have helped to dry up the ground and the whole neighbourhood is now a blur of fertiliser spreaders and seed drills. But the onset of spring brought its own problems as on only the second days top dressing the fertiliser tractor seized on the road. When we informed the engineers of the problem we were met with the harrowing words "that sounds serious, whatever you do, dont move it." We transferred the spreader onto another tractor and then the hydraulics packed in on that! It is an understatement to say the fettle was moderate, and thats before I get the repair bills.

The sprayer has not been called upon yet, probably because of my novel approach to enhance tillering. The first part of March was spent on a wild goose, or rather sheep chase trying to keep the over-wintered Blackface hoggs off my wheat and barley. They had absolutely no regard for my fences and as the shepherd, aka Dad, was at the Paris Show I spent a very frustrating and ultimately futile week chasing them around the farm. My agronomist pointed out that if you are going to do these experiments you are meant to put them on your forward crops not your backward ones. And if that was not bad enough the whole week culminated in me wrapping fathers Land Rover Discovery around a gatepost.

However, I did enjoy a pleasant sojourn south to speak to the Surrey Grassland society recently. They say that timing is everything and I think I timed it to perfection – a week after a certain rugby match in Paris. Somehow I think they didnt believe me when I offered my heartfelt condolences at Englands demise. &#42

Ian Pigott

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

AM I an LTP? I was asked that by a local ag-chem supplier this week. "LTP" it turns out is a new trade acronym for Long Term Player, meaning I am in agriculture for the long haul or am I about to get out of farming?

How optimistic can one be about the future? Old crop wheat prices have collapsed by £15/t in the past couple of weeks and new crop is at about £57/t ex farm. The sentiment further forward isnt bright either with September 2003 futures trading at £66/t.

If one paints a global picture of world food production it is all too easy to conclude that there is little need for the UK arable sector, so I try to draw parallels from the last depression. In the 1930s the state of UK agriculture was so bad that landowners were paying people to encourage them to farm their land and things did improve – eventually. I know it is tenuous but one needs something to keep a bit of fire in the belly.

On the farm, the bumper wheat crop that the trade is telling me I have is under pressure from severe gout fly infestation. My friends at Rothamsted as yet have no cures nor do ADAS, although historically the plant has grown away from it. However, with as many as three tillers/plant infested, I cannot believe it will not have a detrimental effect on yield.

All the spring drilling was finished this week. I am again trying my pea/bean mixture and I am pleased to say that, unlike last year, I have managed to spray it with Bullet (cyanzine +pendimethalin) at 5 litres/ha to get on top of the blackgrass and annual meadow grass. Oilseed rape has had its full dose of 200kg/ha of nitrogen plus sulphur.

With disquiet in the policeforce, healthcare, teaching, and transport it is probably reminding Tony Blair of the anarchic UK of the 1970s. If only farming was as good as it was then. &#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

IT is always a job to know where to start in the spring. Our first priority was to complete some grass weed control in wheat and drill some spring beans.

Next was to apply nitrogen and sulphur to the rape, some of which has suffered from waterlogging and frost to the extent that plants are rotting off at the base on a very early-drilled crop.

At this time of year, I believe that you have to go when it is dry. As a result, the barley had 45kg/ha (36 units/acre) of straight nitrogen and the wheat 35kg/ha of nitrogen (28 units/acre) and 25kg/ha of sulphur.

The wheat justified the nitrogen to maintain tiller numbers in areas badly affected by gout fly. By chance we have a gout fly comparison of cultivation systems. Neighbouring fields with equal inputs applied on the same day, one ploughed and the other harrowed and direct drilled, have 75 plants/sq m and 10-15 plants/sq m respectively.

"Bird brigade" please note, I have never seen so many snipe and woodcock on the farm – nine birds on 11 acres. Obviously min-till is encouraging the worms and insects that the birds feed on.

If it is argued that they have returned because of the wet weather then it was not our farming systems that made them disappear in the first place.

Exchanging information among practitioners is exactly why I would like to see a conservation tillage association. Judging by the response to my Talking Point on FWi, there are a number of other farmers out there who agree. Interestingly, only one or two post an answer on the web. Most still ring up.

I continue to look for ways to retrieve my modulation monies. To those of you who say "its peanuts, only 2.5%", try telling my wife that £1740 is only peanuts. That could easily become £14,000 soon and local authorities that have not contributed one penny could be the beneficiaries.

That is not modulation, its an environmental tax. &#42

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

IT IS surprising what a few sunny and windy days can do for ones spirits. It seems to lift everybodys enthusiasm for fieldwork after such a dreary and wet winter. Unfortunately, ground conditions have got a long way to go until they will be anything like suitable. Drilling Samoa spring wheat is possible, but wet holes abound and the tow chains have been brought out of hibernation.

Loading potatoes out of store has increased over the past four weeks but prices are appalling. Many potatoes in the supermarkets are £1/kg, thats £1000/t and no reflection of the on farm price of £50/t. I was in a large supermarket distribution centre last week and the amount of foreign produce was astounding. The housewife certainly does not care where her food is produced.

Many years ago on our moss land farm it was decided to do away with the old Victorian drainage ditches and replace them with modern plastic pipe mains. As winters and springs have become wetter we are endeavouring to reinstate these old drainage channels with the help of a mini digger. An open ditch makes a marked difference to the water table – the water pulling capacity of an open ditch is far, far greater than a perforated pipe and the land dries much faster. We should have done this years ago.

The seeding contractor is booked for May 4 down under in Western Australia. Seed cleaning is the only activity at the moment. Ryegrass toxicity in the oaten hay crop is a problem throughout Australia and herbicides can be unpredictable in their success. A lot of research has been done by the Agricultural Department using biological control to combat the problem. "Twist fungus" applied at 250g/ha in granular formulation will be spread on the hay paddocks at a cost of A$3/ha. The friendly fungus is specific to the problem and will multiply on its own to control the toxic nematodes that feed on the ryegrass and contaminate the oat hay crop. &#42

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