29 October 1999


Brian Hammond

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

AFTER floods in September, mid-October sees us enjoying an exceptionally fine spell of weather. True to the saying, "Make hay while the sun shines", we have been making the most of it with up to 18 men working on the farm. Contractors have sown winter wheat and barley while our own men harvest potatoes with the help of casual labour and an extra tractor and trailer.

The winter cereals were all sown by the middle of the month, but the potato harvest will run into early November irrespective of the weather. Yields and quality have been good apart from 3ha (7 acres) of Saturna which look like a load of ground keepers – poor soil was probably to blame.

In this, my last column for farmers weekly, I feel I should reflect on the current state of agriculture. Just about every commodity is in over supply, depressing prices. Cheap imports ensure prices stay low even when local producers drop out, and the price of land bears no relation to its earning potential. During the 1930s agricultural depression many farms were offered rent free, a point to be remembered when negotiating rental agreements today.

The supermarkets power is clear and the impending price war between them all the more worrying as we farmers will no doubt end up paying for it. Agenda 2000 and the lack of support from the Labour Government are also concerning. However, in my book, the weather remains enemy number one. Global warming is making weather patterns even more unpredictable, and the weather, good or bad, is what will make or break you.

Who knows what lies ahead for farming. For me the New Year sees me moving on to a larger farm in Southern Ireland. After nearly 19 years at Ballyalloly I would like to thank my employer Eric McCombe for the happy years I have spent here, and wish his daughter Elizabeth all the best for her wedding to Ian which takes place today. I hope they have time to read FW before tying the knot!

After 19 years at Ballyalloly, Brian Hammond is moving on to pastures new. But not before the last of this seasons potatoes are lifted.

Ian Brown

Ian Brown is a third

generation tenant on the

156ha (385-acre) Lee Moor

Farm, Rennington, Alnwick,

Northumberland where he

grows winter wheat, barley

and oilseed rape as well as

spring peas

THIS year has seen a huge amount of stress due to the number of projects we have been involved in. But, as we approach the year 2000, at least some of the slices of toast have landed butter side up.

Harvesting finished on Oct 5, having started in winter oilseed rape on Aug 2. It has been a long haul, and a nerve-wracking one, but by Oct 17 we have all the winter wheat drilled too. Most has gone into good seed-beds more akin to spring conditions. What a difference a year makes. I shall once again be proud of how my crops are looking and the wet holes will become a distant memory, at least until the next time.

Soil sampling is being done this week and, for the first time, in a precision farming kind of a way. Sample plots of 1ha (2.5 acres) within each field are the start of a more accurate approach to P and K, and may prompt a departure from our normal autumn application of 300kg/ha (2.4cwt/acre) of 0.24.24 across the board. It will be a little while before I can use the phrase "virtual hedge" down the pub, but Im sure the day will come.

Now we have the tricky task of emptying our sheds and converting harvested crops into as much hard cash as we can. Our Consort wheat is pretty good on bushel weight – 76kg/hl – and is averaging 220 Hagberg. But protein on the Chablis, Rialto and Consort is poor at around 10% on the new scale. The decision not to apply a bag of ammonium nitrate at flag leaf and the dilution effect of some higher than expected yields are probably to blame. Wheat averaged about 8.4t/ha (3.4t/acre), and peas did well, but barley and oilseed rape did not forgive us for poor sowing conditions last autumn.

Once again thanks to all those neighbours we work with. The current recession is less painful with a bit of co-operation.

"Its all about teamwork", says Northumberland grower Ian Brown. That way the toast will land butter side up…

Trevor Horsnell

Trevor Horsnell, a former

Sugar Beet Grower of the

Year, part owns and rents

182ha (450 acres) at

Gorrells Farm, Highwood,

Chelmsford, Essex. Besides

beet, his cropping includes

potatoes and winter wheat,

barley and oilseed rape

IN the words of the hymn, all is safely gathered in. When I last put pen to paper that seemed impossible; A repeat of last years long, drawn-out potato harvesting campaign was on the cards. However, potato lifting was completed on Oct 19, only seven months after we finished lifting last years crop.

Standens Vision harvester did the honours on our final mornings lifting and put in a very impressive performance. But the machine weighs nearly twice as much as our old Grimme and a few more horses are required up front. I have tried out three different harvesters this year and my only conclusion is that if the good points of each were combined you would have a "helluva" good machine.

Potato yields, and more importantly quality, is disappointing. Desiree, Maris Piper and Estima all show a degree of skin netting and the Estima are a little short of baker-sized tubers and mis-shapen.

Potato and sugar beet land remains to be drilled and is being worked up with the Shakerator we bought second-hand this summer. Although the soil is a little wet inside it is making a good job and the packer roller behind leaves minimal work to get a seed-bed in front of the drill.

On the subject of establishment costs, our oilseed rape, which was broadcast into standing wheat with the slug pellet applicator, is looking fine. With 8ha (20 acres) sown in less than an hour and the tractor barely ticking over the cost was no more than £2/ha (80p/acre). Jim Bullock eat your heart out!

At the end of the month we say good-bye to Matt our agronomist who is leaving to take up a post with a potato pre-packer. Obviously a glutton for punishment, his attention to detail and quest for perfection was second to none. Unfortunately, I have not always conformed to his high standards, as I have only one pair of hands. I think he thought I had six when he wrote out some of his recommendations.

New potato harvesters have been on trial at Trevor Horsnells Gorrells Farm, Essex. "If only they could combine the best bits of all three…"

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

WHEN the rain started during the third week of September I wish I had known it was going to dry up again before winter. From Sept 17 to Oct 4 I measured 212mm (8.3 in) of rain, an average of over half an inch per day. However, we finished drilling the winter beans on Oct 20, completing our autumn sowing three weeks earlier than last year, something that seemed impossible at the start of the month.

Later sown oilseed rape had needed some moisture to get it to germinate, but soon it became waterlogged with only a small root system. We have kept it dosed up with slug pellets and it seems to be growing away with most of it at 4-5 leaves now. On the other hand, August sown oilseed rape is nearly knee high. As expected there are more weeds where we cultivated before drilling, so we will soon be going with a graminicide, probably Fusilade (fluazifop-P-butyl), and a fungicide to slow down any phoma and light leaf spot.

This autumn really is putting minimal cultivations and no-till drilling to the test and allowing us to see how the system stands up. All our autumn sown crops have been established without resorting to the plough and as soon as the surface has been dry enough to travel on we have been able to start drilling. The disc coulter on the Krause drill has opened the soil up and placed the seed without bringing up loads of wet material and the firming action of the press wheel has meant we have had very good seed to soil contact. Wheat was up in a week with less slug damage than anticipated.

Early crop emergence is always an anxious time for first time "no-till drillers"; From a distance your crops look a real mess, all you can see is stubble or sprayed off volunteers. But given a few weeks the stubble disintegrates and volunteers die off, making a surprising transformation. Have faith!

Winter beans completed the autumn drilling on Oct 20 – unthinkable at the start of the month but done now, says Worcs grower Jim Bullock.

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