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Talking arable with Ian Matts: 'There seems to be a recurring theme of staffing issues'

There seems to be a recurring theme to many of my conversations recently, revolving around staffing issues.

More specifically finding enough seasonal cover for harvest.

 

The number of farms getting let down at the last minute seems to be on the rise too, which is a worrying trend.

 

Having been looking for the best part of six months, we have now eventually managed to fill the vacant spot to lead the team of chaser bins at harvest.

 

Although this is now sorted, one of our regular members of staff recently handed in their notice to take the next step on their career progression.

 

I obviously wish him well for this step up, but it now means the unfortunate task of looking for cover again at the last minute! I do not expect this situation to change too much in the near future either, so my intention is to build on the local relationships we have already established, to try to minimise the requirement for additional seasonal labour in the coming years.


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Safety

 

With harvest rapidly approaching, my attention is turning to pre-harvest preparations. We will be holding our annual harvest meeting in early July where we will be running through the usual health and safety update for both the regulars as well as the new members of the team.

 

Although this can get somewhat repetitive for those who have sat through it for a number of years, I am always encouraged by the level of engagement.

 

Trying to deliver the same message in new and innovative ways does become increasingly challenging however.

Lodging

 

Early June’s heavy downpours have no doubt helped the spring crops, particularly the game and stewardship plots, and I would expect it has done no end of good for the winter wheat crops, but the poor winter barley is going to struggle to take much more of it.

 

We have just started to get small patches under trees and on overlaps going flat, particularly the hybrid varieties, which in places have been up to five foot tall.

 

With the weather fluctuating greatly around the time of the final growth regulator applications, and the crop looking like it had just received a decent dose of glyphosate, I cut back on the PGR rates aiming not to stress the crop too much further.

 

Not long afterwards we had a small amount of rain and the crop went from fluorescent yellow to dark green in a matter of days, clearly accessing much of the nitrogen that was sitting around in the soil and has never looked back since.

 

I did worry at the time this could come back to bite, but there was not much choice at the time.

Compensating

 

I am really pleased with how well the spring barley is looking this year.

 

Having been drilled in ideal conditions it never really seemed to suffer too much from the dry conditions and came through the ground as rapidly as ever.

 

It was the earliest we have drilled it since we started with the crop five years ago, and probably looks as good as I’ve seen it. Hopefully this will follow through into yield this year.

 

In a dry season, rain around flowering can help to increase the number of grains per ear in winter wheat, compensating for low ear numbers and potentially delivering high yields.

 

Certainly, the last time that was the case in 2011 we had some very good yields, so I guess there is good reason to be optimistic this year. We just have to hope it starts to dry up soon, as I think we’ve now had more than enough to see us through to harvest, and hope that the sun makes an appearance again as we don’t want too many dull overcast days going forward.

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