Rodney Down: harvest has gone from great to challenging

livestockfarm lifedairyColumnistsHarvestWeather+-

Mother Nature we know always holds the key. Our crops of wheat and barley looked thin and we were only banking on an average harvest. Endless cocktails of fertiliser and sprays which we did not really cut back on, but importantly a cool July allowing long grain fill and natural ripening has been the perfect situation. This was our opinion when we started harvest with some of the best yields we have ever had, cutting nothing so far under 10 tonnes/hectare (4t/acre) in both wheat and barley was a first.


Now our opinion is Mother Nature has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. One minute (or month) quite nice, then the next as angry and wet as can be. August has been the wettest month of the year for not the first time on this farm. We have more than 101ha (250 acres) of some of the highest yielding wheat we have ever grown going flat in the field, and it still keeps raining. We have grown 100 per cent JB Diego; with its performance in every situation outstanding we see no reason to change, although we are watching its resistance to sprouting at the moment.


So we have been busy with wet weather jobs. The corn drier is now ready and cultivation kit has never had so much pre-season servicing. We could of course be trimming hedges, but some hedge hugger banned that activity, meaning September is looking even busier, pushing the staff even harder. I hope there are still activities taking place to get this hedge trimming ban lifted, or an agreement only a certain percentage of the farm is trimmed in August.


On the more positive side of the farm is calving, which is going very well. We had a vet student to help out, but yard scraping was not his specialist area and a collision with a gate post resulting in him resigning due to whiplash. Bruce the Romanian is his replacement, flown in with 48 hours notice.


November will see our cattle graded on a 15-point grid graded electronically. At the moment I agree the Euro grid needs revising, but it will be interesting to see if my Friesian steers benefit. It has stopped raining briefly – I am off to watch the weather forecast again.


Rodney Down farms with his wife Claire at Higher Wrantage Farm, Taunton, Somerset, with 125ha (307 acres) on a farm business tenancy and a further 323ha (800 acres) rented and contract farmed. He milks 300 Holstein Friesians and runs 350 beef cattle and followers. The farm includes 180ha (445 acres) feed wheat and 61ha (150 acres) of maize.

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