Stop-go but quality is fine

21 August 1998

Stop-go but quality is fine

Harvest has been a stop-

start affair at Whelan Farms.

As on most farms, yields are

down. But quality is

surprisingly good, given the

lack of sunshine, suggesting

the farms reduced input

policy will pay.

Suzie Horne reports

DESPITE wheat prices picking up last week, values are still £14/t below budget, and the plan at Whelan Farms is to find a hole for every tonne of grain in the hope of a further price rise.

Only barley, rape and peas have been sold. The 14ha (35 acres) of Fighter barley yielded a disappointing 5.2t/ha (2.1t/acre) and left the farm at £60/t.

The oats have been stored, after initial inquiries produced bids of just £51-55/t. These have since risen to £58 for immediate movement and £60 and £62/t for September and October, respectively.

Oats yielded 6.8t/ha (2.7t/acre), just below the farms five-year average, but the 52kg/hl bushel weight was good, especially as the crop had no fungicide and no sun, observes manager Robert Kilby. "It was very flat but we got it when it was very dry and it came in at 12% moisture."

The rape was combined at 10% moisture and as the farm is unable to dry the seed, it had to be contract dried for £6/t plus haulage. The decision to swath part of the crop worked well with very low losses. Weather conditions meant that the remainder of the crop could not be desiccated and it was left to ripen naturally.

The sample was fine, with no red grains, which have been a problem in some other years. However, yields were 0.7/t (3cwt/acre) lower than last year, despite a crop with seemingly better potential.

As on most farms, harvest has been a frustrating, stop-start affair. After struggling with catchy weather early on, the end of last week saw good weather but little wheat fit enough to cut.

"We have done 100 acres of Flame and Equinox at 2.75t/acre off chalky ground. While heads are ripe and the crop tested at 14% moisture, green straw pushed this up as high as 17% once it had gone through the combine," says Mr Kilby.

"I am still hopeful of decent wheat yields, but it is unlikely we will beat the farms five-year average of 2.99t/acre, because we havent had the sun.

"Weve saved £20,000 on budget in sprays, seeds and fertiliser so far – we havent spent a lot on any of the crops – we havent had the disease pressure, probably due to our height and a good airflow through the crops.

"We have allowed £5/t extra contingency for difficult harvesting and drying costs which we hope we will not have to spend, but this wont make up for wheat prices £14/t below budget."

The high price of seed and low end price for wheat has tempted Mr Kilby to farm-save seed for the first time this autumn. About 60% of the farms wheat area will be sown with 24t of home-saved Consort and Charger. New varieties Savannah and Clare will account for the remainder.

Apart from the gap between budget and actual wheat prices, the pea crop is one of Mr Kilbys biggest concerns. Although it looks well, there seems little prospect of prices improving from current levels and so he has sold 75t at just £68/t. Peas should be combined by the end of this week.

Unfortunately, there is little comfort in the other enterprises on the farm. Lambs are still finishing too slowly, as on many other units, and he suspects there may be a build up of resistance to white worm drenches.

These have now been replaced with Cydectin, and faeces samples were taken 10 days before and after drenching with the new treatment. The results are awaited.

Although cows are milking well off grass, fresh calvers will be brought in next week on to full winter rations. Low yielders will stay outside.

Calf prices continue to cause concern. Two heifers – an Aberdeen Angus and a Friesian – sent to Ashford recently topped the market for their respective breeds on the day, but the resulting cheque, after commission, came to less than £6. Deduct the £7.50 a head transport and the exercise is clearly unsustainable.

At least there is plenty of forage, with 16ha (40 acres) of round bale silage having been made, and 16ha (40 acres) of hay, although the latter was not baled until the first week of August, which interfered with harvest.

Most of next seasons rape crop will be drilled before the rest of the wheat is cut at the farm, with 54ha (135 acres) of Contact and Apex planned. Poor combining weather allowed time for all the rape ground to be subsoiled and it was surprisingly tight given the heavy rainfall earlier in the year. Ploughing and pressing to conserve moisture was followed within two days by the drill.

There are to be some further staff changes at the farm, with trainee manager Charlie Asher moving up the Sentry ladder and on to a 283ha (700 acre) acre unit near Epsom from October, while chief arable man Andy Crow is to be made foreman for the whole farm.


&#8226 A 649ha (1604 acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Six full-time staff.

Andy Crow (left) and Charlie Asher check Eiffel peas which combined well at 14% moisture. But the price is a worry – 75t of peas were sold for just £78/t. Wheat is also causing concern, with prices about £14/t adrift of budget.

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