September 2016

It has been a busy few weeks for the Farm during the summer holidays. Harvest started on 26th July this year and is still to be finished with a small amount of linseed still to combine. Hopefully the weather forecast is correct and we should be finished by the middle of next week.

Generally this year’s harvest has been one of mixed results. Concerns earlier in the year over the poor weather during June and the unusually high levels of barley yellow dwarf virus in the cereal crops have been proven just in some cases, but not in others. It really has been a year of mixed fortunes, some crops have disappointed, others have done much better than anticipated and so were pleasing.

The winter barley yield was a little disappointing, yielding about 10% below the Farm’s average, but we have done better in terms of yield and quality than other farms in the locality, so although poor it could have been much worse, in academic terms it’s a C.

Winter oilseed rape struggled to establish in the autumn, suffered during the wet winter, got eaten by pigeons over Easter, plagued with pollen beetle during flowering and parts of one field were infested with charlock which meant spraying the weed (and the crop) with glyphosate which killed everything. Harvest came a good week to ten days later than usual and didn’t take long to complete. Yields were disastrous, down 30% on average. The only consolation is that nationally oilseed rape yields are generally poor this year. If grades were given to crops this would be a definite F, re-sits required.

The Farm usually grows three different varieties of winter wheat. There are a number of reasons for this; having different varieties spreads the autumn workload as they have different growing characteristics and require planting at slightly different times. At the opposite end of the growing cycle, different varieties mature and ripen at different times which means that they won’t all need harvesting at exactly the same time thus spreading the harvest workload. This year the Farm grew Crusoe which is a group 1 (top spec) bread making wheat and despite needing an extra fungicide application to counter brown rust the variety did very well, yielding 6% above our rolling five year average and quality was excellent as everything surpassed the minimum specification for milling, top of the class A*.

Our second wheat variety was Cordiale which is classed as group 2. This is still a bread making wheat but quality in terms of protein content is less than with the group 1 wheats. We have grown Cordiale for a numbers of years and generally it’s our most reliable variety, it may never set the world alight, but it never lets us down either, and this year was pretty much the same. Yield was a little low, but quality was good and it performed as expected, B maybe B+ after remarking.

Thirdly, we grew KWS Lili another group 2. This is a new variety and was the wheat most affected by Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus. Yield and quality disappointed, yield was below average and we only managed to achieve a low milling specification, must try harder, D.

The spring sown oats were planted a little late and the seedbed was far from perfect in places, again BYDV infect the crop and yield was down 10%. Winter beans grew like stink during the mild winter, were far too thick and became very tall during the spring. Tall crops struggle to remain upright, especially during wet and windy weather and it was no great surprise that the beans eventually fell over. Despite lying close to the ground for almost three months before harvest, they actually yielded 30% more than average and were only bettered by the ones we grew in 2014. Oats C-, beans A-.

Spring linseed, final results still out there, so far so good.

Other developments on the Farm include replacing the older of our two tractors, this was a planned decision as it helps us maintain a reliable machinery fleet as well as reducing the Farm’s corporation tax liability. We have also purchased a second hand cultivator. The new machine will enable us to create a “false seedbed” by only moving the top 25mm of soil. This is important for encouraging weed seeds to germinate, especially blackgrass which is becoming increasingly difficult to control in a growing crop. The false seedbed will be sprayed of with glyphosate to kill the weeds before the new crop is sown using our existing seed drill which has been retrofitted with a low disturbance point which has been imported from Canada. The Farm has also continued to develop a system to place liquid fertiliser in the soil whilst the oilseed rape is being planted. The theory is that having the fertiliser immediately available to the plant as it grows will encourage more rapid growth and better autumn establishment of the crop. The system has worked to a point this autumn, but I have struggled to achieve the required flow rates and pressure needed for the system to work properly, if anyone reads this who has any knowledge of fluid mechanics, please contact me as I could do with some help on this one.

As mentioned in my previous Farm News, we are in the process of establishing the new Countryside Stewardship plots and margins around the farm. As with the old ELS scheme it is important that the areas are managed for wildlife and nothing else. Please do not enter these areas. For anyone unfamiliar with the Farm and Estate new maps will be available next week which show where people can walk both on public footpaths and permissive ones which are for LWC staff and pupil use only.

Finally, Sternian Will Gullett (2015 Sutton) now has one week left on the Farm before he returns to the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester. He has been with us since June and judging by the permanent smile on his face, he has enjoyed his time on the Farm. He has been involved with all of the daily tasks and has been a very valuable member of the team. So far he has learned that masonry drill bits won’t drill steel, no matter how hard you push or how long you keep drilling, 150 horse power tractors and fourteen tonne grain trailers can redesign a shed door in a split second and that working on the farm is lot harder and more tiring than school ever was (his words)! We wish Will all the best for his return to his studies and trust that he will have a long and fruitful career in rural land management.


Paul Sigley

Farm Manager, Stern Farms Ltd