ON OUR FARMS
Last forage maize is in
THE last of our forage maize was drilled on May 24, which is about 23 days after the optimum date, writes Tim Green. Although that was a week earlier than last year, the conditions since drilling have been less favourable for the crop to catch up.
Vimer is now facing a severe drought having seen double the normal rainfall in the first four months of this year. The dry weather, which appeared suddenly, baked the soil which made seed-beds difficult to prepare on the heavier land. Consequently, germination has been very erratic. In a normal year, we experience about 20% losses from drilling on our best maize fields. This year, near Camembert, some fields have achieved only 50% germination. We are more fortunate at Vimer because we managed to cultivate our heaviest ground at the right time, and the plant population is fine. Germination on our lighter, stony ground is also good, although the crop will soon struggle through lack of moisture.
Constant battering of the soil with rain over the winter and early spring, made some ground impenetrable with the plough unless it had been sub-soiled. Meanwhile, any wet lying areas now carry seriously stunted plants.
Many wheat crops in the area have had bands of maize drilled on the headlands or into the wetter areas because farmers have decided to plough out the worst areas in an effort to cut their losses by establishing late-drilled maize.
Because these are often drilled into compacted or wet ground the crops seldom look very clever.
This seasons unusual weather pattern has also hammered grass crops. Silage yields are well down, the cows are grazing more land than usual, and re-growths are non-existent. Furthermore, because of the wet weather, some land received no fertiliser in the spring and applications after cutting do very little good because it is too dry!
Some local farmers, overheard complaining about the dry weather, almost came to blows with some of the public. They could not understand how we could possibly be short of water. With temperatures of more than 32C (90F) most of the time (our cowman, Jacques, measured 50C (130F) against the wall of his house) it is not really so surprising.
Having planned to increase our forage stocks this year its a shame we have not been able to make more use of our new mower. Its a basic 2.4m Amazone model costing just over £2900, before 19.6% VAT, but it has done a very good job.
Our total machinery costs equate to just under £200/ha (£81/acre) which is £50/ha less than the average for the region.
We have managed to contain our costs because we have kept purchases to a minimum and we also rely more than some farmers on contractors. But I think it is important to retain some basic equipment and, consequently, we have re-invested in that where appropriate over the past two or three years.
Our next purchase will be a second-hand, 12.5t-capacity trailer which we intend to buy from our local contractor. It will cost just over £4000, the part-exchange value he was offered on a new trailer. Although more expensive than we had hoped, bearing in mind it is seven years old and has worn tyres, we have stuck to the deal because it is very difficult to find good, second-hand trailers. Moreover, its our intention to reduce the contractors bills at silage time by backing up the silage team when they need occasional help. It will also avoid the need to scrounge grain trailers at combining time.
I hope our new investment will help to improve productivity and timeliness because we seldom seem to be on top of the workload. Because of the imminent introduction of a 35hr week for all employees, there is a danger that it will get worse. Although there is some scope for overtime, the bottom line is that my cowman will have to work fewer hours while being paid the same as the 39hr week.
But he will lose out eventually because of reduced overtime. When I pointed that out to the social security inspector on one of his recent visits, and explained this will prove unpopular, he said they are advising employees to find a part-time job to make up the difference, a logic which baffles me completely.
Even after a training course on the new system, it is still baffling and we will have an individual case study to find the best options. Under the new legislation, social security inspectors can check all your employment records and go back three years in your accounts looking for any anomalies. Needless to say, on his recent visit, the inspector found some but, fortunately, we will be let off with a warning because its a relatively minor sum of money.
The amount of time spent on controls and form filling in France continues to multiply, as are the training days required to keep pace. We have just spent £130 to fill in our forms for the water agency. All animal waste produced on the farm must be recorded when spread on the fields. Which field, the area of the field spread, dates, proximity to houses and watercourses must all be recorded.
The only benefit is that, with luck, it will avoid us having to pay a pollution tax for this year.
Next year the rules change again and we will have to do some work. What with the new pollution requirements, the 35hr week and not getting younger, the need for a better slurry handling set-up is definitely becoming a priority. We have already started negotiations, but the estimate for digger work at more than £32,000 took the wind out of our sails. Clearly its time for serious thinking. *