For the second year in a row we are experiencing drought-like conditions at Southesk and, as I write this article on May 15, we have only recorded 13mm of rain since March 27.
There is, however, a big difference in how the crops compare over the two years. Think back to 2018 when we had a very dry harvest and sowing period.
Crops went in well and, during a relatively benign winter, established good root structures which allowed them to utilise what little moisture there was during spring 2019 and therefore continue growing.
This year is a different story. A lot of our autumn 2019 crops went in late into open seedbeds, have sat wet all winter and therefore haven’t been able to develop roots capable of continuing crop development through a six-week dry spell - they hadn’t needed to, either, as there was plenty of available moisture.
As a result, our later-sown wheats on light land are very poor and oilseed rape flowering is all over the place. So now, with a lot of expensive chemicals yet to be applied and minimal disease detected, brings the onset of a battle of minds between the manager and the agronomist in relation to reducing spend while still protecting the crop.
Do we spray and therefore spend, or do we park up and therefore save? These are the two questions which will be on every growers’ lips as the weeks wear on and, from my experience, the answer comes down to your attitude to risk – because quite frankly you could undertake both options and see absolutely no difference in yield depending on what weather and disease we see over the next six weeks.
One bit of advice I would offer is if we have a poor harvest – which in part, we definitely will – at least having reduced spend you can accept as a manager you have done everything you can to mitigate against reduced yield.
If you carry on spending, you have nowhere to hide at the year end. No prizes for guessing what my approach is at times like this.
Our annual Scottish Quality Cereals audit was carried out yesterday using an alternative method to a face-to-face meeting.
All documents had to be scanned, referenced and emailed to the assessor, which took ages, and then a WhatsApp video call was had to show him the chemical store and grain stores.
A new approach which has been forced on us for this year, but it will be interesting to see if a similar format is utilised going forward. I suspect it might be.
Our first strawberries were picked 10 days ago and, with daily volumes increasing, it was a welcome sight when more pickers arrived last week from Romania.
These are a mixture of returnees and new faces who arrived as part of a chartered flight into Edinburgh and are now being isolated as part of Covid-19 guidelines before being able to commence work with our existing staff.
It has been an incredibly difficult experience sorting pickers out for this season and I have to give credit to our fruit manager who has worked tirelessly in ensuring that not only we get pickers but also putting everything in place to ensure their safety once they arrive.
This has not been helped by the constant barrage of opinion and pressure that UK fruit and vegetable growers have come under in terms of utilising UK-sourced pickers, a source that, when you really explore, doesn’t actually exist to the levels indicated and I think we all know never would.
For us and a huge number of fellow growers, it’s quite simple. Let’s stick with what we know, protect our loyal, hardworking employees and protect our crops and businesses because once this pandemic is eventually over, the UK will not get back on its feet without functioning businesses.