16 August 2002


Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr farms 344ha

(850 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Wyldingtree Farm, North

Weald, Essex. Cropping is

potatoes, including some

on rented ground, plus

cereals, herbage seed and

oilseed rape

JUST when I thought it time to experiment with min-till, along comes a wet summer to remind me that the plough is still king. Saturated soils have seen most of the locals swanky cultivation kit beat a hasty retreat to the shed.

Having changed the rotation here at Wyldingtree to a first wheat and breakcrop only situation, the dilemma was how to establish 120ha (300 acres) of oilseed rape after wheat in what can be damp plasticine.

Ultimately, I elected to purchase an Autocast on-combine broadcasting system. The only cultivation pass will be with our Caterpillar and double press behind the combine. Keeping grain trailers to tramlines will minimise harvest soil damage, and I intend to offset the cost of the Autocast unit by using it to apply slug pellets or Avadex granules when drilling cereals.

Yields of early harvested crops in our area have been mediocre at best. I cringe when I read claims of stratospheric tonnages in the press, often without weighbridge tickets to back them up. Are these farm managers trying to justify themselves, I ask? Or are they farmers aiming to improve their street credentials ready for the next local contract farming opportunity? One thing is sure, the merchant trade love to hear it.

Mind you, if I were a merchant, I would be worried right now. Low prices are likely to lead to increased setaside this autumn which will have serious repercussions for all the agricultural supply trade.

The farm assurance visit mentioned last month has come and gone. I reasoned that things would be quicker after several prior visits. Wrong! It took seven hours, leaving us with some fairly meaningless credits and a hefty bill to boot.

Well done to Essex farmer Peter Fairs for making a stand against CAP proposals to alter area aid into a single payment based on historical claims. That would discriminate unfairly against all producers of non-supported crops currently outside the aid system who, in many cases, are developing markets for the benefit of all. &#42

John Best

John Best farms 320ha

(791 acres) from Acton House

Farm, Pointspass, Co Down.

Wheat, conservation-grade

oats and potatoes are main

crops on his 220ha (544 acres)

of clay loam arable land

LAST weekend we cut our first wheat this year. It was 35% moisture.

The crop went through the combine very easily and was sold off the combine for crimping. But field conditions after months of rain are terrible. The combine got stuck on a number of occasions and trailers had to be restricted to the lane.

An on farm meeting organised by Keenans with the support of the Ulster Farmers Union promoting the use of home grown grain drew a large crowd with considerable interest in whole crop and crimped grain. Haulage is a significant cost at todays prices and farm to farm sales help to reduce that, to the benefit of both buyer and seller.

Our sprayer has been back to the fields to apply 1.5 litres/ha of pre-harvest Touchdown (glyphosate) to the conventionally grown oats, which, thanks to the use of Acanto (picoxystrobin), have maintained a lot of green leaf. Despite some torrential rain crops are standing remarkably well. However, one cynic has suggested that this is probably due to poor grain fill.

An approach by a local textile company resulted in us growing 4ha (10 acres) of flax this year. The crop is a trial to look at different methods of harvesting flax in Northern Ireland and then assessing the quality of fibre produced. At present, the company is growing it in eastern Europe but weather conditions there are not very suitable and transport expensive, hence the interest in sourcing local fibre. To date the crop has stood up well to the weather and should be ready for pulling by the end of August. Full marks to the IACS branch of DARD in helping us through the complexities of arable aid on the crop.

The EU mid-term review proposals look like producing radical changes. Certainly, anything that reduces IACS paperwork would be very welcome. Changing to an overall farm payment appears attractive. But some in this house suggest I would be better focusing on the early retirement proposals! &#42

Peter Hogg

Peter Hogg farms in

partnership with his brother

at Causey Park Farm, near

Morpeth, Northumberland.

Half the 450ha (1100-acre)

heavyland farm is in crops,

mainly winter wheat, barley

and oilseed rape, plus a

few potatoes

OK all you potato growers out there. Listen carefully, I will say this only once.

Are you, like me, fed up of selling potatoes at £60/t only to see them priced at £500 to £1000/t in the shops with processed potatoes many times more?

From this weekend we should stop selling potatoes altogether, having first informed your local dealer/processor/trader that you still have a good supply. Then we sit and wait.

When he/she contacts you, say that the potatoes will be £150/t and that you can supply only 50% of the amount requested. When the price reaches £200/t increase deliveries to 75% of demand. Make a good job of grading out and at the end of the season sell the remainder as stock feed.

Anyone interested in pursuing such a marketing policy can contact me by e-mail ( And if you know of neighbouring farmers or importers trading below £150/t ring them up and tell them what jolly rotten spoilsports they are. You may wish to use some stronger adjectives than I am permitted to in this column!

Harvest is underway with most of the oilseed rape cleared, one-third of the barley cut and 10t of potatoes lifted. Yields are all quite good, but the weather – like the government and my old Alfa Romeo – is becoming a serious nuisance.

Straw is lying sodden and the land is too wet to work. Progress is at a standstill. However, at least I could wander round the local vintage tractor rally that took place in one of our fields last weekend without feeling guilty that I wasnt working.

Some friends of ours were visited by a farmer from the south-west who commented on how well the crops look in this part of the country. Well of course they would, as we are all experts up here, especially me, just ask my wife Christine.

Whats that? Did I just here her say that there is an alternative definition for the word expert? I dont believe it. &#42

Stewart Hayllor

Stewart Hayllor farms

400ha (1000 acres) as a

family partnership from

Blackler Barton,

Landscove, Devon.

Combinable arable crops

are complemented by 32ha

(80 acres) or organic

vegetables, 180 dairy cows and contracting work

HAVING no winter barley of our own, it has been a slow start for us this harvest.

Headlands of two fields and one whole field of oilseed rape where sprayed with 3 litres/ha of pre-harvest glyphosate to aid combining. These areas were cut almost 10 days before the unsprayed crop. Gemini did 3.9t/ha (32 cwt/acre) outyielding Pronto which did 3.2t/ha (26cwt/acre). Final dried average across both varieties was 3.6t/ha.

A small parcel of Millennium oats have been cut for immediate home use and to get some straw. Yield appears good though bushel weight may be on the low side. The crop wasnt fully fit resulting in the long straw wrapping around the auger.

We started wheat on Monday with the first field disappointing at just under 7.4t/ha (3t/acre). Hopefully, we should have a reasonable run at it now.

Haulm topping is the job in hand on our organic potatoes, Claret first, soon to be followed by Cosmos. Claret has started to senesce naturally with skin set well on the way so lifting should not be far off either.

Claret and Cosmos have held up well to blight, whereas a field of Ricolta succumbed badly. That has had to be burned off with a gas burner prematurely which will result in a lower than wished for yield.

I have worked out that, with all the hours spent weeding and hand bunching organic carrots, barely a hectare provides one full time employment equivalent. We have more than enough carrots for bunching so the surplus will be harvested by machine into bulk bins.

Last weekend we held a barbecue for members and staff of South Devon Organic Producers beside our new reservoir. Canoes and a rowing boat provided water sports entertainment, followed by a game of rounders, children against adults. Needless to say, the adults where thoroughly thrashed.

In entertainment value the reservoir has been priceless. The problem will come in a dry year when irrigation and sporting interests could clash. Irrigating may have to stop to prevent the water level dropping too much! &#42

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