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Talking arable with Hannah Darby: It is time I tried to embrace the change on the horizon

As I sit at my desk on December 4, penning my article for the beginning of 2021, it’s raining.

As farmers, I think we all like to talk about the weather and day to day it does seem to swing from one extreme to the other. Looking back over the last seven years, on average November has been our fifth driest month with about 40mm of rainfall. Last year provided 88mm and on the back of above average rainfall in September and October, it is surprising we managed to plant what we did.

 

This year the 23mm in November on the back of 78mm in October meant our winter wheat drilling season was prolonged but finishing on December 2, we have managed to plant about 140 hectares.

I hoped to drill 170ha but the fields on our clay soils were never going to dry enough to carry the drill and not ruin the structure we have built through minimal cultivations, cover crops and direct drilling in the last four seasons. I hope to plant spring wheat whenever the conditions are suitable and plant another field of winter wheat after sugar beet in the next month.

 

I could spend the rest of the column debating the merits of growing sugar beet on our farm, but I am going to wait and see what the results of the derogation on neonicotinoid seed dressings are. With it all now lifted, it is safe to say there was not much in the heap, but we will wait and see the factory results.

 

Optimism

 

I always find this time of year quite tough. The short days, rain and cold do not fill me with a huge amount of optimism. When walking over the earliest drilled fields this week, I found myself feeling a little down, wishing one field had a few more slug pellets than already applied.

 

Given the pressure we have seen in previous years and the fact many of our last year’s spring cereals and beans affected by slug damage, we thought our pressure would be high, particularly as we had found slug eggs in early autumn and also because we run a minimal cultivation system. Therefore, all fields had an application of pellets at drilling. This field had been missed by me on the second trip round the farm, the leaves were looking visibly stripped and the emergence was gappy.

 

After a couple of hours of moping I questioned why I was upset that 4ha looked a little less than perfect when other fields were coming well. It brought into mind the Farmers Guardian blog by Jim Beary (October 30), ‘I believe farming suffers from too much negativity’. It is well worth a read if you have not already. His blog discussed the negativity he felt the farming industry suffered with and how positivity and change is seen as a threat. I will paraphrase a wise farm adviser who once said if you have the mindset you will grow a rubbish crop, then you will do.

 

Changes

 

The document launched by Defra earlier this month, The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024, signals how some of the huge changes our industry will face in the next 10 years will be implemented. I knew they were coming with the progressive reduction in BPS, meaning this was the last year of seeing a full area-based payment. The document brings positives, the way we farm should be rewarded under the Sustainable Farming Incentive. In the future I hope the production of sustainable and nutrient-rich foods will be equally rewarded, something that should be highlighted in the second stage of the National Food Strategy.

 

It is time I tried to embrace the change on the horizon, no doubt it will be difficult financially for a farm of our size. All we can do is keep revaluating our business, make changes and get involved in the pilots to influence future policy.


Read More

Talking arable with Hannah Darby: It's difficult to know what the long-term future of sugar beet will be for usTalking arable with Hannah Darby: It's difficult to know what the long-term future of sugar beet will be for us
Talking agronomy with Ben Boothman: Grass-weed control in OSR is looking very pleasingTalking agronomy with Ben Boothman: Grass-weed control in OSR is looking very pleasing
Talking arable with Ian Matts: Overwintered seed does not appear to have the vigour that new seed shouldTalking arable with Ian Matts: Overwintered seed does not appear to have the vigour that new seed should
Talking arable with Hannah Darby: Our eyes have been opened to the importance of what we do to our soilTalking arable with Hannah Darby: Our eyes have been opened to the importance of what we do to our soil

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