Well, I am sitting here thinking of how the last eight months have been since my debut article back in April and I do not think there is any way to sugar coat it, it’s just been bloody moderate (in fact probably less than moderate) with all that is going on in the world but the focus does lie at what is going on, on the farm and again faced with weather patterns that are not always conducive with farming above the snow line.
Let’s start with some positives: lock down, it did make me realise how lucky we are working in this industry. I cannot quite comprehend what it must have been like for those in large towns and cities as we all know there is a lot of advantages of being able to walk out your front door to your place of work. The schools closed which for our family life was fantastic coming as it did into a busy spring following the awful autumn of 2019. We spent more time with each other, with my son working with us and teaching my daughter to drill, and there was plenty of that ahead of us in the coming weeks. It was time spent together that is not always possible.
With 80% of the farm to spring crops the weather was good initially, conditions improving all the time and cereals emerging well. The prolonged dry did start to affect soil conditions especially when we started to drill our spring o-s-r after our failed winter rape. The surface had capped from the autumn’s drilling and was unable to create a good enough environment for the spring rape. I thought we still had plenty of moisture below the surface so I pulled the old Xpress out from the nettles and used that just to create that improved environment ahead of the drill. The rape emerged well and evenly on the whole but still no rain!
The cereals and beans did not seem to be taking any hurt but the rape just seemed to sit there not doing a great lot. I was thinking ‘had I done the right thing by moving more soil than some would advocate’ and it felt like weeks. But the first true leaf appeared followed by the second and third and it just took off to our great relief. The power that plants have to survive and grow is quite amazing. Then came the rain probably in time for those above the snow line and crops seemed to flourish.
Calving started in the last week of April. Dry of course but cold, not exactly short sleeved weather. Calving 135 cows in three groups: one mob grazed; one strip grazed; and the others had been out wintered and calved on an area of permanent pasture. Also 35 heifers which had been out wintered that we brought inside for calving, normally we would have to assist some of the heifers but all calved without any help. But the cows for some strange reason were not as simple as we had to assist five – all with large calves and none ended well but that’s farming!
But with a great effort from all the team the spring calving and sowing went really well on the whole.
Of course when it starts to rain it soon feels like it forgets to stop. Hay and haylage making did seem a little tedious, crops were not as heavy due to the dry in early spring but there were windows of opportunities and just by good luck definitely not good management, we managed to make some good hay but the weather continued to feel more autumnal than summer. Harvest had started for many around us, but with us not having any winter barley it did feel a little frustrating. It was time to go on holiday but there wasn’t much appetite for that due to Covid, and not sure people and planes were going to do much for me.
So, harvest did eventually start between the showers cutting some less than average winter rape. It did not fill us with much confidence for the rest of harvest, but I have been known to be wrong once or twice before. The last few days of August saw us have a start with some wheat and considering the previous autumn and spring I was remarkably surprised with its yield but the weather was not settled and in those first few of weeks of harvest we lost at least 10 days due to rain – not large quantities just enough to be rather annoying, The weather did seem to settle and harvest continued with completion on the 10th October [it has been later] and better than anticipated on the whole.
Now for those less positive things. It often feels that there just is not enough time in a day or do you put it down to poor forward planning? I possibly plan for the ideal and not the average but then some things in farming are just out of your control and I am sure you don’t need me to tell you what they are. Winter rape and linseed have established relatively well considering wheat harvest was stop start and delayed. We have a proportion of wheat that looks ok, but for the wheat after the spring rape and spring oats, and winter beans after the spring barley that we got drilled I think we are looking at a total failure. I am sitting here thinking of a way of sugar coating it and to look for some positives but I really am struggling.
The reality is that in a normal year, if there is such a thing, you should be able to drill in the last ten days of September confident of success, but with constant rain from June not in large quantities and then the 22nd September we had 36mm and that turned our fragile soils to conditions that were just ok, so continuing to drill wheat and beans still with confidence but the weekend of the 3rd October we had 74mm over 36 hours and then another 48mm over the next two weeks. Surprisingly I think it was the last 48mm over that longer period that caused the real damage with no respite to allow ground to drain. It is rather frustrating to say the least. You question the system and what could I have done differently if anything. We have a lot of questions but not many answers. All I do know is there is nothing I can do about it today and accept the fact that there is going to be another year with a larger area of spring crop than would normally been planned we just need to turn the page and move on.
All that has focused the mind a little. You do think what could you of done differently and I think even with our small window of opportunity there are certain things we can improve on. The main thing is the growing of cover crops. I think they are so important to Regen Ag and I feel we have let slip our focus on this for stabilizing our soil and retaining nutrients over winter. Today it could have opened up opportunities for us to alter the rotation and enable us to drill a winter crop if we had a good cover crop. I think conditions would have allowed us to do that today.
I am sure that I am not the only one that has failures and you do need to surround yourself with people that build confidence and support you in anything you do as it’s not easy if it’s not the normal.
To end on a positive, on the back of Covid, my involvement as Chairman of BASE-UK and the great Committee and our administrator Rebecca who work so hard organizing webinars for our members this is what gives you the confidence to continue down the road of CA, Regen AG.
I look forward to the end of Covid and hopefully being able to be out on farm in the New Year.