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Roger Evans: My fodder beet dream is victim of endless rainfall

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Like most of my plans, it was L immaculately thought out. Every year I grow crops for sale. Twelve months ago I had 45 acres of winter barley in the ground. I intended to grow 20 acres of fodder beet for our own use. But I had 20 acres I could put in to another cash crop.


Normally I would have put in 20 acres of spring barley. But we’re not that well geared for cereal growing. We have a shed that we can tip grain in and sell it. But if it were to be a wet time there’s no drier and there’s a big cost for haulage to a drier, and that’s before the actual cost of drying. And we have to sell the winter barley before we have room for the spring.


Why not grow 40 acres of fodder beet and sell half of it? You don’t have to dry fodder beet, and you can keep it outside on the concrete. You can sell it for cattle feed, sheep feed or digester use. If it’s worth £20- £25 a tonne and you get 20t to the acre, it comes to a lot more than a crop of barley.


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So that’s what we did, and it all started nicely. We sold the winter barley, straw and grain, to a digester 20 miles away – there were 11 tractors and trailers in the field during the haulage.


But how was I to know it would be the wettest back-end for 100 years? As I write today, we’ve only lifted about a quarter of the beet and it’s nearly February. I put an advert in the local paper but the mobile phone signal went walkabout for the three days it was in. But because I’ve got the beet on some high fields with light soils, I do have some for sale. That’s more than most people around here who grow fodder beet can say.


And there’s the snag. I’ve got neighbours who are good friends as well who have been taking the odd load. The conversation goes like this: “My field is still too wet, can I have a load to keep me going? And I’ll bring you a load back when I get mine up.” For neighbours and friends I don’t mind but as most of my thoughts are devoted to generating income in order to mitigate losses, I was struggling to see how I could turn this to any commercial advantage. So when the most recent load went to a good neighbour and friend, I said to him “What you are really doing is hiring this fodder beet.” Quick as a flash, because he had worked out where the conversation was headed, he retorted: “No I’m not, I’m borrowing it.”


There seems to be a consensus view abroad that most dairy farmers are well aware the farm price of milk is crap. So they don’t need to be reading all about it every time they pick up a magazine, especially written by the likes of me. And as I’ve given the milk price issue a bit of an airing of late, I will desist today.


Of the same view is the young man who comes every month to do our foot trimming. When he has finished his job he always pops in to the house to write out his invoice. I like watching him write out his invoice. It’s the only one we have that has cow muck all over it. It’s good for your farm secretary to have invoices like that, lest they forget that they work in a rural industry. I watch fascinated as he tries to wipe some of the muck off with his sleeve, because his sleeve is muckier than the invoice, and he is only making matters worse.


I give him a cup of tea. I tell him that he seems a bit low. He agrees but explains all of his clients are feeling low because of low milk prices (I know I promised I wouldn’t write about milk prices), and it’s a tale of woe he has to listen to all day, every day. I point out to him that he’s been in our kitchen for quarter of an hour and I haven’t mentioned the price of milk. He says that’s true, and his demeanour improves visibly.


“That’s not all I haven’t mentioned,” I tell him. “What else is there?” The last time we had one of these little chats was pre-Rugby World Cup. He is a big England supporter and he gave me a half hour non-stop description of how England was going to demolish Wales by over 30 points. Very keen on his rugby is our foot trimmer. He used to play for our club. Trouble was, his eyesight is not the best and at an evening training session he was the only player who improved as it got darker.


So I remind him of his pre-World Cup rant and he looks crest fallen. I tell him I would be fully entitled to return the point scoring (that’s a sort of pun) about that particular rugby match but I won’t because the actual score line is eloquence enough. And he agrees. It’s all good natured banter. He’s soon on his way, with my cheque in his hand. Which is all he popped in for anyway. And a mince pie. And two chocolate biscuits.


I have some friends who went to Austria for Christmas. I asked them to get me another Alpine cow bell. In my mind I anticipated having two bells to bring the collecting yard alive with the sound of music. Some bell they brought back! It was of a size that you would hang on a farm cat, should you ever be able to catch one!

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