Jim Macfarlane is farm
manager at Edrington
Berwickshire. Two-thirds of
the 275ha (680-acre) unit
is arable, with winter wheat
the main breadwinner,
complemented by malting
barley, winter rape and peas
EXTREME conditions prevailed to the bitter end of 1998 – the year ended in violent storms which felled many trees, but luckily left no serious building damage.
Despite continual waterlogging most crops look reasonable.
Oilseed rape plants are small. But we have an adequate population and, thankfully, pigeons have not shown much interest in the crop. I think there are more stubble fields locally this year, which is helping to keep them feeding elsewhere.
Wheat and barley crops are behind normal, but look surprisingly healthy. Some patches were re-treated with slug pellets just before Christmas and the pest seems under control. A little over 1ha (2.5 acres) of wheat appears lost to slugs. Normally this would horrify me, but this year I am pleased to have lost so little given the appalling conditions. Ponded areas are claiming more crop, but it amounts to little in percentage terms.
Most dry days just now are spent planting hedges under the Scottish Countryside Premium Scheme. Every plant is shielded by a tube and stake to make aftercare easy using glyphosate. It is tedious work in the mud, but we are pleased to be doing our bit for the environment. About 25,000 hedge plants and 400 trees will be planted during our first five years in the scheme and I am looking forward to seeing the benefits.
I find the latest integrated crop management research very interesting and we are slowly heading in this direction. Farmers in the past had to rely on crop rotation and small areas of individual crops for weed, pest and disease control and I feel much of this expertise has been forgotten.
We may all be forced to farm less intensively in the future and those who have neglected and ripped out hedges to create huge fields will be at a big disadvantage. Natural predators like beetles and ladybirds need hedgerows and long grass to flourish in. Four 10ha (25-acre) fields have about 50% more of this habitat than one 40ha (100-acre) field. *
Growers will have to re-learn some old cultural control techniques if ICM is to succeed, says Borders farmer Jim Macfarlane. Big field farmers could well be at a disadvantage.
Justin Blackwood farms
562ha (1389 acres) from
Grange Farm, Great Brington,
Northants, on a range of
Cropping hinges around
winter wheat, plus winter
barley, rape, peas, oats and
WE started the year with more depressing weather and then some even more alarming television.
Our wet, waterlogged ground has been impassable for almost three months, so, as a last resort, I switched on the television last Tuesday, only to hear someone with exceptional writing and presentation skills openly condemn the EUs current IACS policy. At present these payments keep us on a more level playing field with the main production areas of the world.
He admits losing money on the 1998 harvest even after banking the payments which he so adamantly rejects. So how are smaller acreage farmers and those with rented land expected to survive? Or come to that, any first generation farmers trying to establish themselves in the industry? Is he aware of the potential backlash of 4m or more viewers, most of whom are already unsympathetic to the farming community?
It would be nice to see more people support their own industry and colleagues. If they cannot do that then at least they could keep quiet. But I suppose we have to accept that it is just a British trait to run down ones own country, industry and products.
Despite the continual wet weather, crops do not look too bad. Herbicides on early planted crops have generally worked well, with most weeds controlled. There seems little point in making a mess, so the remaining spray programme and drilling will wait until weather and ground conditions improve.
But if frosty weather presents itself we must take the opportunity to get through some of the increased workload. Top dressings may go on earlier than usual, especially on oilseed rape.
We are wrestling with how we can reduce our costs. Variable costs have come down across the board, over £60/ha (£24/acre) during the past 18 months. Through membership of our buying group we hope to keep buying at the most competitive level. Machinery and labour costs are next, which I will discuss in months to come. *
Why, oh why, cant farmers support their own industry and colleagues? asks Justin Blackwood.
Andrew Hebditch farms
285ha (700 acres) of
owned, tenanted and
share-farmed land at Coat,
Martock, Somerset. Silt
and clay soils support
winter wheat, barley and
oilseed rape, plus spring
peas, linseed and beans
RAIN and wind, then more rain; the New Year came in the same way that the old one went out.
Rainfall totalled 900mm (35in) for the year, the wettest months being April and June with over 250mm (10in) and little sunshine, giving us our worst harvest for years.
Most of the remaining ploughing was finished just before Christmas, with headlands proving to be extremely challenging in places. Thankfully, we persevered as ground conditions are now impossible, with some rivers having burst their banks and lots of standing water.
With all the wet our ewes were starting to look a little bedraggled, so they came in a couple of weeks early on Christmas Eve. They will stay in their nice dry shed until they have lambed in March.
Looking forward a week or two, our first jobs of 1999 will be to get some nitrogen on the oilseed rape and to drill the 20ha (50 acres) of Victor spring beans. In some years we have been dry enough by mid-February for both tasks, but this year it looks unlikely.
One 12ha (30-acre) patch of oilseed rape looks particularly sad. It was the last drilled on Sept 20, on a heavy, flint ridden, north-facing field away from the farm. Even if this crop survives, the field is destined for set-aside in future.
Cereals are mostly well established with up to four tillers. Some cold weather would be greatly appreciated now to slow growth and cut lodging problems later on. In the first programme of his series on BBC 2 last Tuesday, I thought Oliver Walston expressed his sometimes controversial views well. I find myself agreeing with most of what he has to say; that many subsidies have had their day. But farm businesses are not like the corner shop, to which we were compared. Such businesses buy wholesale and sell retail with an acceptable profit in between. We as an industry do the opposite! *
Somerset grower Andrew Hebditch reckons Oliver Walston is right when he says subsidies have had their day. But comparing farming to the corner shop is stretching it too far.
Lloyd Jones farms 175ha
(430 acres) at Hall Farm,
Cereals and potatoes are
rotated with grass and he is
an NFU council member.
Buildings house potato and
cereal seed dressing lines
NEW Year arrived with the same appalling weather as last month.
Needless to say the modified potato harvester never left the shed to complete our last few potatoes. On a more positive note some attractive prices from MBM Shrewsbury persuaded us to sell a few loads of stored Pentland Squire for premium packing markets.
Early ordered Scottish Desiree and Pentland Squire seed has arrived in apparently good condition. We will be washing samples to check for traces of black scurf and if any are found Monceren (pencycuron) will be applied in our drive to achieve packing quality.
Unfortunately, that is only half our seed requirement and faced with rocketing prices we are considering using home-saved "mids" (35mm-45mm) for the remaining acreage.
Our 27ha (67 acres) of ground not drilled in the autumn will be planted with Optic spring barley and Barbara linseed. Not having grown linseed before, only dried it for other people, this promises to be an interesting experience. It will go on 17ha (42 acres) that was in potatoes last year, giving the ground more time to dry out. If nothing else, it does look pretty when in flower.
A local farmers sheep, or mobile lawnmowers as he likes to call them, are grazing surplus grass on early sown grass-seeds. They are doing a super job, both firming the ground and eliminating the need for chemical weed control. Surely one cant be more environmentally friendly than that. And they generate an income at the same time.
Spraying is at a standstill until conditions improve. An NFU article I read recently detailed new groundwater regulations on the disposal of listed substances. These come into force in April so I must check in case we need any authorisations from the Environment Agency.
Now the weather is changing, so maybe the ground will dry up. Maybe those last few potatoes will get lifted. Maybe grain prices will go up now the euro is trading… A lot of "maybes", but thats farming! *
Premium prices for packing markets have tempted Shropshire grower Lloyd Jones to let some potatoes go out over the weighbridge, despite the last of the crop still being in the field.