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In your field: Tom Clarke - 'We’ve been moving away from routine ploughing and that will continue'

Kids are back at school, the nights are really drawing in and, thankfully, we’ve finished harvest.

At times it felt like being stuck in a labour ward waiting room, and I know a lot of farmers still have large areas of combinable crops deteriorating in the field. My heart goes out to them.

 

Hopefully, the brief burst of an Indian summer forecast this week will have helped everyone get finished. But what a horrid year it has been.

 

Although we have got the last of our spring linseed in and we finished our wheat a week or two ago, it is still busy in the Fens with the beans and onion harvests swinging into gear and the potato lifting still to come. The sugar beet campaign will take us right through until spring.

 

Even so, it feels like a good time to take stock. After a short post-harvest lull, September is usually filled with preparations for our annual festival – the Prickwillow Ploughing Festival. Not so this year as, for obvious reasons, we have had to cancel, which allows even more time to reflect on what the last 12 months has thrown at us, how we responded, and to plan how to do better next year.


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Challenges

 

It is an easy trap to always be farming last year’s weather. Just because it rained non-stop through October last year, doesn’t mean it will again. No doubt new challenges await. So my focus is on longer term patterns and making choices which give us more flexibility, come what may.

 

As I have said before, the long-term pattern is clear – wetter autumns and winters, dry springs, hot and showery summers. More pests and diseases surviving winter, striking earlier.

 

We have been moving away from routine ploughing and that will continue; there’s a place for it on our soil and rotation, but we did it from habit, not necessity. Leaving overwintered stubbles moves a lot of work to the spring, when we are focused on conserving seedbed moisture rather than preventing damage to sodden soil.

 

For cereals, we have added a (second-hand) min-till drill, but kept the trusty combi-drill too – again, keeping our options open. This year has proven how late we can actually drill winter wheat and still expect a decent yield.

 

Some varieties, especially super-fast maturing Mv Fredericia, have won my respect. Whereas, my earliest drilled second wheat – the worst performing by far – has been sacrificed.

 

I have two other pet projects this year. I’m trialling homemade blends of milling wheat and persisting with beneficial insects and nurse crops in sugar beet.

 

Time will tell. In farming, despite frenzies between cloud breaks, time is something we have plenty of. The trick, I guess, is not to waste it.

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