17 September 1999


Mike Rowland

Mike Rowlands 141ha

(350-acre) Bowden Farm,

Burbage, Wilts, is in organic

conversion with 32ha (80

acres) going fully organic in

Oct 99. Potatoes, carrots,

wheat and peas will rotate

with grass for suckler cows.

At Amesbury 404ha (1000

acres) is in conventional

seed production

HARVEST 1999 has been a good one with record arable yields almost across the board. However, it will also be remembered as a time when every commodity price is at crisis point.

Normally, in the past, we have had one part of our business making money. Not that long ago harvest cereals could be marketed at about £100/t.

Now, they are 30% down. The milk price has nearly halved, calves are worth nothing and potatoes barely cover the variable costs let alone the overheads.

Most businesses faced with these severe reductions in prices would have gone bust, or pulled their money out and invested it sensibly elsewhere. But farmers struggle on. Does this show the resilience of a good farmer or the stupidity?

I am not sure what is the key to our own survival. But I have looked at every part of our business and decided fixed costs must be variable and looked at just as critically as our normal variable costs when deciding arable or stock policy. We now operate with fewer staff and larger machinery, achieving more acres per day. Our dedicated team know we must all work hard, together, for survival.

Our cropping programme this year has been drastically simplified to the fewest number of varieties. The emphasis has been to smooth production, starting with an earlier variety to ensure the fewest peaks on our demands.

The Apex rape is sprayed and up. We are ploughing furiously and will shortly finish the lime and fertiliser applications. Cereal drilling should start Sept 15.

Haulm on the Estima potatoes is nearly dead and has been tidied up with 0.3 litres/ha of Shirlan (fluazinam) and 4litres/ha of Reglone (diquat). Our 6ha (15 acres) of Cara has had similar treatment. Yields look variable: between 44t/ha (18t/acre) for Estima to over 62t/ha (25t/acre) on the Cara. Our neighbouring organic potatoes have been topped for lifting shortly and the carrots look very well.

Our clover leys are still producing surplus grass – I hope our sucklers dont get too fat.

Bumper yields at Bowden Farm, Burbage, Wilts, left Mike Rowland smiling. But prices, in all sectors of the industry, are a different story, he says.

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) as the tenant of Branthill Farm, part of

the Holkham Estate, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk. Sugar

beet lies at the heart of the

rotation, with other crops

including winter barley,

wheat and oats, spring

barley and triticale

WE FINISHED harvest just before the August Bank Holiday and have enjoyed an Indian summer ever since. That is good for putting sugar into the sugar beet but soon we will need a rain to lift them.

One field of spring barley was caught by the warm and wet August weather, and germination suffered by around 8%. Overall Optic averaged 6.6t/ha (2.7t/acre) which is good for this light land farm. Prices have still not revived and it was sold for an average of £83/t ex farm. Riband first wheats averaged 10.5t/ha (4.2t/acre) but our one field of non-first wheat suffered take-all severely and gave a bitterly disappointing 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre). Our three-year-old Kentra dryer really came into its own and sprouting was not too bad.

Most of our corn is stored in self-emptying silos and we have only two relatively small floor stores. Stephen Temple, who farms next to us with his father, has designed a simple temperature monitoring system for such on-floor stores. It consists of a computer attached to wire sensors placed in the grain heap. The computer gives a continuous reading of all sensor points and records them. This should keep the ACCS inspector happy as well as the farmer.

We are ploughing our stiffer land prior to pulling it down and drilling, which we hope to start around Sept 14. Gerald oats go in first, followed by Regina winter barley. If we drill barley earlier than this we find we get unacceptable screenings.

One of my sons, as part of his GCSE studies, conducted a survey outside our local supermarket on the publics attitude to organic versus inorganic produce. The vast majority said they wanted organic produce – but at a minimum price premium. The main reasons given for drifting away from conventional produce were its contamination with chemical residues and that so much of it was "now" genetically modified. Boy, have we conventional farmers got a mountain to climb to put the record straight on our produce. And we had better start soon.

Conventional farmers have got a mountain to climb when it comes to public perception, says Norfolk grower Teddy Maufe.

Kevin Littleboy

Kevin Littleboy farms 243ha

(600 acres) as Howe

Estates at Howe, Thirsk, N

Yorks. The medium sandy

loam in the Vale of York

supports potatoes, winter

wheat, rape and barley, plus

grass for sheep

IN 10 years farming I have spent considerable sums attending conferences, seminars and lectures given by experts and professionals. On top of that I pay for independent advice and research. This years harvest prompts me to question the value of that expenditure. Against all advice, I drilled Abbot winter wheat in the first week of March and it yielded 10.5t/ha (4.2t/acre) compared to November-drilled Abbot which did 8.8t/ha (3.6t/acre).

Yields this year have been interesting and astounding. Apart from one take-all hit field of continuous wheat Rialto, yielding 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre), the Rialto averaged 9.2t/ha (3.7t/acre) at 74.5kg/hl, 368 Hagberg, and 12.9% protein. Madrigal, as continuous wheat, did 9.7t/ha (3.9t/acre) at 76.1kg/hl, 305 Hagberg and 11.4% protein. Consort second wheat averaged 8.5t/ha (3.4t/acre) at 78.3kg/hl, 280 Hagberg and 11.1% protein. Claire, following oilseed rape, did a staggering 12.05t/ha (4.9t/acre) at 77.6kg/hl, 235 Hagberg and 12.1% protein.

On the eve of last weeks interest rate rise, I was invited to represent agriculture at a dinner held by the Bank of England Agents for Yorks and Humberside. Apart from the strength of sterling, the most important issue raised, by all industry sectors represented, was the enormous amount of red tape we have to deal with. It stifles all businesses, especially those competing on world markets, adding unbearable costs. I suppose this self perpetuating and snowballing lunacy creates service industry jobs, but has common sense been completely driven from the English Language? Is it really necessary, due to fear of litigation, to label steps to the altar in Church with bold red letters "Caution – Steps"?

After listening to Elliot Morley, the countryside minister, at MAFFs consultation meeting Towards a New Direction for British Agriculture, I am convinced that modulation is coming. In the future an across-the-board reduction in IACS payments will help pay for all the oversubscribed and/or fund lacking agri-environmental schemes. While Mr Morley is the countryside minister, his views appear contradictory to what we hear from agriculture minister Nick Brown.

Yorks grower Kevin Littleboy (left) has been discussing some astounding wheat crops with Kenneth Wilson sales manager Nigel Britland.

James Hosking

James Hosking farms 516ha

(1275 acres) with his

parents and brother at

Fentongollan, Tresillian,

Truro, Cornwall. Land is

equally split between share

farming, various FBTs and a

tenancy. Crops include

wheat, oats, barley and

daffodils, alongside sheep

and cattle enterprises

HAVING had rain here almost non-stop through August we had resigned ourselves to harvest being a difficult salvage operation between the showers. But what a turnaround!

Although we cut a lot of very wet wheat as the dry spell started, we finished up cutting at 16-17%. Our mobile drier has been running for 24 hours a day and we are in debt to the 20-year-old Zetor tractor which drives it; it went through the wheat without a hiccup, only being switched off once a day for servicing.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Opico drier. That is totally controlled by an electronic box, which developed a fault, immobilising the machine. Luckily, it did not stop us harvesting because our local dealer lent us a spare, but why must such relatively simple machines be so totally dependent on complicated electronics? Any fault and it has to be sent away to be repaired.

Most wheat had sprouted to varying degrees, which reduced the average bushel weight to about 76 kg/hl. But, even with the loss of weight, we are extremely pleased with the yields. A few late drilled fields, which did not come through the winter well, brought the average down, but across the farms we hope to have averaged 8.5 t/ha (3.4 t/acre). This is our best yield since 1996, and just shows that the weather in May and June has the most significant effect on the yields.

Linseed was also remarkably easy. Most of it came in at 10-12% moisture and it has yielded quite well. Fields that were drilled early produced about 2t/ha (0.8t/acre), and the later drilled crops, following forage rape, 1.4t/ha (0.6t/acre).

The wet August did not allow us to get ahead with any of the cultivation work and we are under pressure to get new grass leys established so we can get on with ploughing. The last week in September is our target date to start drilling winter cereals.

Its a race to catch up with ploughing and land-work at Fentongollan, near Truro, for James Hosking.

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