June 2016

It has been a while since I last updated everyone on how the Farm is progressing and what we’ve been up to.

As always, the weather has played a large part in how the crops have grown and developed over the last few months. The mild, wet winter has had a detrimental effect on the autumn sown crops. The cereals (wheat and barley) have suffered with a disease called BYDV (barley yellow dwarf virus) which is transmitted by aphids. Usually a chemical seed treatment is sufficient to prevent spread, it controls aphids for six weeks after the crop has emerged after which the weather is normally cold enough to prevent aphid activity and the spread of the disease, but last winter was so warm that aphid activity continued and the disease spread through the crops. How much yield loss we have suffered will only become known when we harvest in a few weeks’ time. Blackgrass is also a big problem this year and again it has benefited from the mild wet winter. Pre-emergence herbicides have been eroded by the wet conditions and the land was too wet to apply additional herbicides in an attempt to keep the weed at bay. Blackgrass is becoming increasing difficult to control as there are less chemical options available than say five years ago, also the plant has become resistant to many of the chemical active ingredients available for use. A move to alternative control strategies will be required this autumn such as ploughing to bury the seed, stale seedbeds (where a shallow, false seedbed is created using a cultivator) will be used in an attempt to get the grass weeds to germinate and then we can “spray off” using glyphosate before we plant the main crop, and a new design of low disturbance seed coulter will be fitted to our seed drill, the idea being to move less soil with the drill as each time the soil is moved more blackgrass seed will germinate.

Elsewhere on the Farm, the winter oilseed rape has now finished flowering, the seed pods have set and the next job will be to spray it off to aid ripening before it is harvested in about a months’ time. The winter beans have grown tremendously over the mild winter and, if anything, they are too thick which is why they are so tall this year, but they flowered well and have set pods which have filled well due to the recent rain. Spring oats were sown in less than ideal conditions just before Easter. Generally they have established quite well, but some areas had to be re-sown and have never managed to catch up with the main crop. Again BYVD has infected the crop which is why some of the leaves have turned a bright red colour. The spring linseed has started to flower which is always pleasant to see, yet again sowing proved a challenge, especially as the first field was drilled during a snow storm in the third week of April.

The Farm has had an Entry Level Stewardship Agreement with Natural England for the last five years. This basically meant that we received EU funding to manage parts of the Farm for the benefit of wildlife. This agreement came to an end in November last year and we have made a successful application to join its successor which is now called, Countryside Stewardship. The name has changed for the better as it should now be clearer to people than the old ELS which always needed a lengthy explanation as to what it actually was, so thumbs up for the new title, but the new scheme has also come with more red tape. In depth records of work carried out including photographs need to be kept and a large amount of time was spent collecting evidence of what we had on the farm as it was needed for part of the application. In practical terms not much has really changed from ELS. Many of the grass margins will be removed this autumn and replaced with normal cropping, but the areas and plots of nectar and pollen, winter bird food, bumble bird mixtures and wildflower margins will increase in size. The fields to the east of the estate where the Battery once stood are now managed under archaeological protection which means that no deep cultivations are allowed and the Farm will plant approximately one kilometre of new hedges over the winter months.

Otherwise the Farm is relatively quiet for a few weeks until harvest starts. Will Gullett, who was in Sutton last year, is helping out on the Farm until September when he will return to the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester where he is studying rural land management.

Paul Sigley, Farm Manager