Farmer Focus Tom Sewell

Priorities… but who’s to say which ones are right and which are wrong?!

Since penning my last article for the team at Direct Driller I’ve been thinking what fresh and interesting things to write about for my next contribution. It seems that increasingly in recent years many aspects of farming, and life in general, have become very “black and white” as to what is right and wrong. We are told to “reduce our carbon footprint”!! Many reading this will have reduced cultivation, planted cover crops, applied manures in many different forms and chopped their straw rather than baling.

The really go-ahead farmers are using stripper headers and disc drills to reduce costs and seriously increase output. Diesel use per hectare is paired to the bone and this should be commended. But what is right and wrong? By criticising someone who perhaps bales straw, cultivates or does something that we deem different to our ideal, we often miss out on really understanding the background to their decision and the practical, political, financial and “hassle-factor” reasons for their choices.

As William Cowper wrote in his poem The Task,

“Variety is the very spice of life that gives it all its flavour”.

Perhaps we should all celebrate the fact that every farm, every farmer and every business involved in agriculture is different to yours, and mine. What’s a priority for one is very low on another’s list. This was made very clear in a sudden and dramatic fashion to my wife and I earlier this summer. A very close friend or ours for the past 12 years contracted cancer and died on the 8th June. She was 42 years old, a single mum and leaves a 13 year old son. Life can be hard and unfair sometimes!

Why is this relevant? I hear you ask! Well this happened just before the Cereals Show and the annual round of shows, variety trials etc. Now those of you who know me well will know that I’m pretty passionate about farming and love nothing more than a good “tyre-kicking” day out! But this sudden tragic loss suddenly rearranged my priorities both on the farm, within the family and towards others I know and love. 

Some of you may know that as a farming family we never work on Sundays, even during harvest! It quite often gets a raised eyebrow expression and the response “I wish I could do that but…….”

There are a number of reasons for this decision (which I might go into in the future), but we also buy the biggest machinery (within budget!) to allow us to cover the ground and take any contracting opportunities that come our way within a 6 day week. It’s a choice we have made and is a high priority to us. For others it’s not a priority and other things will trump this. Isn’t variety just great?!

I’m sitting writing this on September 1st. Harvest is all completed, Oilseed Rape all sown, rolled twice and slug pellets applied. All of our catch crops after Oilseed Rape and cover crops (after wheat before spring barley) have been sown and are emerging nicely. As we don’t have a weigh bridge I can’t give you exact harvest yields so will use words rather than numbers to express our harvest results!

Winter Barley – dry, better than expected yield and lots of straw! (Which we chopped because I thought the straw price was too cheap!)

Oilseed Rape – varied from “absolutely abysmal” to “much better than expected” All cut dry and sold at levels higher than the past 2 years.

Oilseed Rape – varied from “absolutely abysmal” to “much better than expected” All cut dry and sold at levels higher than the past 2 years.

Winter Wheat – The star of the show this year with more in the shed than we expected, most was cut dry but protein lower than I’d like.

Spring Beans – The less said the better! But every year I have that “what was I thinking planting beans?” thought process. Dad always reminds me “they’re good for the rotation” Thanks Dad!

So with harvest complete thoughts now turn to cleaning and maintaining machinery, hedge cutting and tree trimming and those winter projects that need completing. I can see the sense in adding a tined drill option to the armoury particularly for use in establishing cover crops into thick chopped wheat straw and for planting Winter Beans and Oilseed Rape. I’m also looking at future staffing options as the business continues to grow and will spend time off-farm on some personal development training. One thing that I’ve learned over the past few months is to make the most of every day and every opportunity, to be kind and help others. You never know when your time is up!