Herefordshire grower hopes to drill once flood recedes

Herefordshire grower Martin Williams still plans to crop his whole farm despite some 34ha being flooded this week.

After the floodwater recedes he hopes to be able to grow a crop of large blue peas on the land next to the River Wye at Fownhope, which was originally destined for winter wheat.

The area first flooded two weeks after potatoes were lifted in the autumn, preventing Mr Williams from drilling his intended crop.

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“It would have been wheat, and we would have lost it because of the floods,” he says, as the fields have repeatedly flooded over the autumn and winter due to relentless rainfall.

“All through the winter we have been thinking that we will plant wheat, because that is what farmers do, but we have decided in the last three weeks that it won’t be wheat, we will put peas in instead.”

Best option

While the river floods quickly, it retreats equally as fast and the loamy soils drain well, but despite this Mr Williams could not see how the area could be drilled with wheat before April.

Peas were already in the rotation as a break crop alongside maize, destined for forage and AD farms, and potatoes after Mr Williams gave up on growing oilseed rape due to flea beetle pressure.

By growing large blue peas on contract with merchant Dunns, Mr Williams will have chance to rectify drainage channels and properly prepare the soil before he needs to drill.

Before drilling the peas Mr Williams plans to go in with a Sumo to sort out the compaction left behind by the potato crop.

Cropping plans on the higher ground have been changed to make room for wheat anywhere it could be drilled, with some areas being put into the crop for the third year running.

Mr Williams has had to drill what he has in the shed, with variety Costello going in last week, after the safe cut-off date.

Waterlogged crops

Of the wheat crops he did manage to establish in the autumn, one field drilled on the brow of the hill at the end of September has failed due to waterlogging.

“We are going to spray it off as soon as it is fit to travel and plant peas or maize – they are the only two options which will also cover the costs of establishing the failed wheat crop.”

Although he normally establishes his crops by scratching the surface and min-tilling, this year he has had to rely entirely on a plough and combination drill to get crops in the ground.

On the few areas of fields which are unlikely to recover from the floods in time for this season he will put some mid-tier bird mix.

“It won’t look pretty but needs must,” he says.

“I don’t think there is anything that we won’t crop, maybe a couple of flooded areas, but not the whole field.”

Although he has less of his most profitable crop in the ground this year to cover his costs, Mr Williams is not planning on changing his approach to crop management.

“The principles will be exactly the same as normal, with cereal cropping there’s only a finite amount you can get out of it anyway.

“Pushing an unrealistic expectation out of it isn’t in my toolbox, there’s no point putting a 12t/ha mix on a 7.5t/ha crop,” he says.

Environmental incentives

He first ploughed the affected area when a Site of Special Scientific Interest was proposed along the riverbank to allow him to continue cropping.

A significant area of river meadow right along the river was put into arable production due to a variety of factors including TB, profitability, a keenness for arable land and demand for potato ground in the area.

Despite farming in an area of outstanding natural beauty there has been no financial incentive not to crop the area.

“You might have thought that the river meadow would have been at the top of the agenda for a payment, but it hasn’t been.

“It’s beautiful dirt as it’s sedimentary land made over thousands of years, it would be heart-breaking to stop cropping it, but for the right incentive I would,” he says.

“I’m not happy seeing the fields like this, but from a return point of view arable cropping has provided the best return over the last 15 years. If it stays that way after the new Agriculture Bill remains to be seen.”

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