November 2018

Looking back over the last year, the weather yet again had the biggest influence on how the Farm has performed. Spring was especially late in coming following the “Beast from the East” which lead to unexpected work clearing snow for the County Council. It also meant that the spring crops were planted a month later than planned.

The longed for dry spell of weather eventually arrived, temperatures warmed and the autumn sown crops grew rapidly although the spring oats and linseed desperately needed a drink in order to establish. The dry weather continued and temperatures soared into June and July. Crops died, rather than ripened and harvest started on the 11th July, ten days earlier than usual, with the winter barley, followed by the oil seed rape and the winter wheat which completed on 3rd August.  This is remarkable when considering that in most years the wheat harvest is only just starting in the first week of August and is rarely finished until the third week of the month.

Despite the hot conditions and lack of rain, the winter barley actually did a little better than average, the oilseed rape was bang on the Farm’s five year average and although the wheat yield was twelve percent lower than average, the quality was good and all the wheat made milling specification.

We then had a wait of five days before harvest could continue. The spring oats and spring linseed were not ripe and the winter beans were so dry and brittle that they shattered and fell out of the pods the moment the combine touched them. The eventual solution was to cut beans early in the morning and then move into the oats as the morning dew lifted and the temperature rose. Harvest finished on 3rd September with the linseed, which was about normal for this crop.

The hot weather really had a detriment effect on these three crops. The spring oat yield was almost twenty percent lower than average, the linseed yielded less than half of what was expected, and although the winter bean yield was about average the crop was badly affected by bruchid beetle which ruined the quality and rendered the crop unfit for human consumption.

 

Although yields were generally lower due to hot weather, it did bring the advantage of not having to dry any crops this year, which saved the Farm several tens of thousands of pounds, so the lower income has been offset against lower expenditure leaving us about where we thought we would be financially.

They dry conditions also gave the Farm the opportunity to do some sub-soiling and remove any compacted areas of soil in the fields. Generally much of the soil on the Farm will self-correct as it dries out with vertical fissures appearing in the fields, but there have been a few headlands and gateways where some mechanical intervention has been required.

As in previous years we carried out a very light cultivation immediately after the combine had harvested the crop, to encourage any weeds seeds present  to grow so that they can be sprayed off with glyphosate before plating the next crop. The dry conditions and lack of rain meant that this approach was not overly successful this year and we had very little weed growth, especially blackgrass, before autumn drilling began.

The dry conditions also hampered the establishment of the oil seed rape. The crop was sown into good seedbeds at the end of August, but some areas failed to germinate and fields are patchy in places. Flea beetle were problematic with some fields needing four applications of insecticide to protect the crop. Although this is annoying, it does appear to be similar to the situation nationally where establishment has been estimated at 80 to 90% and is definitely better than some farms where re-drilling has been required.

The winter cereals (wheat and barley) were sown from the first week of October and the winter beans went in during the first week of November. Cereal drilling was interrupted by a brief spell of wet weather, which at the time was somewhat worrying as we were only half way though drilling wheat and it looked as though the decision to delay drilling to allow blackgrass to germinate (which did not happen) was going to catch us out.  However, the weather dried up and everything was sown into some of the best seed beds I’ve ever seen on this farm.

 

Paul Sigley

Farm Manager, Stern Farms Ltd