It’s crucial harvest time for arable farmers and, despite the unpredictable weather, the combines are out in force. Trevor Foss gave Countryside magazine the lowdown from his mixed farm in Northamptonshire.
The dust will be flying this month as combines and cultivations get going up and down the country. Until it’s safely in the barn, [crop] yields are difficult to predict. I’m keeping my fingers crossed it will be around the 1.5 tonne per acre mark.
The winter wheat variety we have grown this year is called Skyfall. I just hope I can ‘bond’ with my combine and defeat the weather once it’s ripe! The target is to finish cutting before the end of August, but, of course, this depends largely on the weather.
Quality is defined in a standard contract when selling grain. The main ones being 14% moisture content, protein at 13%, and 250 on the Hagberg scale (showing the elasticity of the flour).
Waiting for the grain to dry down to 14% moisture can risk losing quality. This is one of the main reasons you see combines cutting late into the night in an effort not only to complete the harvest, but also to protect the quality as well.
Our Wizard winter beans will soon be turning black as they ripen, but may not be ready before we get into September. Some of the pods tend to form very low down on the plant and so cutting as low as possible without damaging the cutter bar on the combine is always a challenge.
All our harvest will be taken by tractor and trailer the three miles to grain traders in Long Buckby. I will know every bump and hump on that road by the time this is completed. All the loads are weighed and the samples taken before tipping is given the green light.
The traders take full responsibility for the storage of our grain, and either buy from us or sell for us on the open market. This arrangement works well for us, relieving me of any storage requirement, loading lorries, and, importantly for my asthmatic lungs, no dust worries.
Cultivations start once the fields are harvested and, if baled, the straw has been carted away. Oil seed rape is planted in mid-August and getting the crop growing quickly gives it the best chance of beating the dreaded flea beetle. We use a contractor with a machine that can sow the seed and also inject liquid nitrogen into the ground at the same time.
This achieves two things: minimum soil movement, saving moisture, and also nitrogen is put into the ground right next to the emerging seed. Both of these things are vital to get the seed germinating and growing quickly.
From crops to livestock, and at the moment our cattle are gadding. A combination of flies and very hot weather can set them off. They suddenly put their tails in the air and bolt at high speed across the field. It can lead to them breaking out simply by not stopping in time and crashing through the hedge.
Can I take the opportunity to challenge BBC Springwatch on some points they made? Farmers are continuously being blamed for lack of habitat and reductions in certain species. Hedges left for three years before trimming would decimate them; much better to give a light trim every year. Leaving grass field hedges as late as possible allows birds to feed well into the winter.
In the past 25 years, farmers have planted 30,000km of new hedging, dug new ponds totalling more than 478,000 and have reduced pesticide usage by a staggering 71%.