FARMING: Lincolnshire harvest better than once feared

Spring Barley
Spring Barley

Harvest was finally completed on September 6 in spring barley. This year will be remembered for two reasons, the first being that for the first time ever the combine leader needed to be converted for harvesting oilseed rape on five occasions, when in any other season once would be sufficient. This was solely due to the variability of maturity in the crop caused by the late spring.

The second reason this year’s harvest will be remembered is for the variability in yields between different fields. Here at Poolham Hall, oilseed rape averaged 1.25 tons an acre with the best field yielding over 2 tons an acre and the worst less than half a ton to the acre. The overall yield of my winter wheat was over 3½ tons an acre, but this figure is helped by the fact that only half of my second wheat was drilled due to the saturated soils last autumn.

The real surprise of this year’s harvest, in my opinion, was the performance of spring barley. My best field drilled after sugar beet yielded over 3 tons an acre, but especially the remaining one hundred acres of wet clay soils, which although drilled late, still yielded over 2 tons an acre.

In summary yields from the 2013 harvest have been average, but certainly better than I was expecting in the spring. If growing the crop in the field was not hard enough, marketing the crop is a real challenge. My congratulations go to the farmers, who despite the dreadful way the crops looked in the fields in March this year, nevertheless sold a portion of their wheat harvest forward for over 180 pounds a ton for harvest movement and their oilseed rape for over 360 pounds a ton. For readers not involved in farming the prices available for wheat and oilseed rape are currently £150 a ton for wheat and £295 a ton for oilseed rape, and the difference between a profit or loss to the farmer.

Cultivations and drilling are well under way at Poolham in preparation for next years harvest. Only 18mm of rain has fallen in September this year and the oilseed rape plants are struggling to establish themselves.

However with rain forecast for the end of October, provided it arrives, the crop should enter winter in a far better condition than last year. The rain will certainly help to mellow some of my seedbeds prior to drilling wheat. The heavy clay soils, now dried out and cracked by the record dry weather this year, are proving a challenge to prepare a suitable seedbed to drill into.

Although I have used a record number of wearing parts on my plough and subsoiler this year restoring the structure of the soils in fields that had laid very wet in the spring, this is a far better option than facing another wet autumn.

The agreement between British Sugar and the NFU on the Privacy and Terms of the 2014 Sugar Beet Contract is welcome. Despite the small increase in the price offered by British Sugar, I am sure that the greatest influence on whether or not farmers will sign their contracts is dependant of their other options for break crops on their farms.

Finally my thanks go to DMJ Drainage who have completed the proposed land drainage scheme on the farm. Most of the fields are now drained every 10 metres and although the watercourses on the farm are currently bone dry, one day I look forward to seeing the difference the new drains have made.