Despite concerns earlier in the year with regard to the cold spring and the crops being slow to grow, we had an exceptional harvest on the farm. The 2014 harvest saw some record yields, but 2015 surpassed it with all the crops yielding very well indeed. It would be nice to say that this was all down to the exceptional management of the farm; the right crops and varieties were chosen, the best sprays were applied at exactly the right times, fertiliser inputs were planned spot on, and all was perfect in every way possible. All this has had an impact on how the crops performed and definitely contributed to the yields we achieved, but as ever with farming, the main factor was the weather. The crops were very slow to start growing in the spring due to the cold conditions, but once warmer weather arrived, conditions were almost perfect.
We had 30% more sunlight than average, especially in May and June, but unusually it remained relatively cool. This was due to the fact that the Atlantic Ocean was about 2oC cooler than average, and the strong westerly winds kept the air temperature cool. These two factors meant that the cereals had a much longer grain fill period than normal, low rain fall meant disease pressure was low, and when we did get some rain in May it was perfect to swell the gain. So for once I was happy with the weather.
Harvest started on the 23rd July with the winter barley and was completed on the 3rd September. The down side to the large harvest was having enough space to store the grain before it was collected by Hampshire Grain. The large harvest of 2014 also added to the problem. The UK had a fifteen million tonne carry over from the 2014 harvest, which meant that many merchants stores were still full when harvest 2015 started. The strength of sterling also had detrimental effect as it has made exporting UK grain uncompetitive on the world market. These factors meant that the South of England was literally awash with grain by mid-August. Little grain was leaving the country, stores were full and it became a slow process moving grain. We have very limited storage at the farm and so we were at times forced to stop harvesting as we had nowhere to keep the corn. The impact of this was that we only had two days harvesting left on 22nd August, but had to wait until we had cleared some grain off farm. We still only had the two days left when the weather broke on the 26th and we did not start again until the 2nd September, by which time the wheat had spoiled in the field and the milling quality had been lost. In the end we had four hundred tonnes of wheat in the shed which didn’t leave the farm until early October.
The second major impact of the glut of wheat, not only in the UK but worldwide, is the effect on prices. Wheat is currently trading at prices thirty percent lower than two years ago, and prices are starting to slip below the cost of production, which makes profitable farming difficult and reliance on subsidies and schemes such as the ELS even more important.
Autumn sowing started with the stubble turnips in mid-August and the sheep are currently grazing on them. Oilseed rape sowing was delayed due to the wet weather in August and the crop has so far struggled to get away. Slugs have been a continuous problem and we will have to be careful not to lose any plants over the winter if we are to still have a viable crop in the spring. The autumn weather at times made sowing the wheat difficult and this was compounded when we had a major breakdown with one of our tractors. Despite some difficult conditions all the wheat has been planted and has established sufficiently to survive the winter. Finally we planted the winter beans, and again heavy showers made it a start, stop job. Long hours we put in at times and it appears to have been worth the effort since the beans have established well, keeping the crows off them will be the next challenge.
So after a long few months, the farm is starting to quieten down for the winter…
Paul Sigley, Farm Manager