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Talking arable with Sophie Alexander: A testament to collaboration and commitment

White’s oats recently won Best Cereal and Porridge for the Kavanagh’s brand it makes for Aldi. By association, it is also recognition for our farmer group and the quality of the oats we grow specifically for White’s.

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With the intention of entering The award is testament to the collaboration and commitment of both parties. For five years White’s has worked closely with the farms contracted through Organic Arable. Each party contributes to a research and development budget set up to identify the best varietal choices and crop management options in order to improve quality and production through the mill.

As a member of this producer group I enjoy knowing where the cereals we grow end up and it is satisfying that they are nutritious and taste good. With Kavanagh’s, it also busts the myth that organic produce has to be more expensive. Frequently it is retailers hiking their margins. Demand for organic grain is continuing to grow. There is a shortage of supply and therefore an opportunity. Anyone interested let me know.


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Talking arable with Neil MacLeod: Preparing for Brexit is easier said than doneTalking arable with Neil MacLeod: Preparing for Brexit is easier said than done

Drilling

With the intention of entering into a White’s oat contract again for 2019, we finished drilling 70 hectares of Mascani winter oats on October 22. I saved my own seed this year because supply is tight and expensive. We cleaned the grain hard, taking the thousand seed weight to 45g. It has 97% germination and disease level is negligible.

Soil and weather conditions obligingly conspired to allow a textbook seedbed and I do not remember ever achieving a better-looking autumn establishment. There has been no evidence of slugs and no early leaf discolouration to indicate stress or a deficiency of any kind. And I have not spotted a single drill miss – all credit to North Farm Contractors. I have dutifully done some plant counts and with a seed rate of 250kg/ha in 12cm rows we are on target at 430-465 plants per sq.m.

Dry conditions

I hope I am not going to regret having no winter wheat in the ground this season. I would have caught a cold last year if we had not put some in as winter yields were almost double spring results. Could we really have a consecutive summer as dry as the last? I am sure I am not the only farmer wondering what crops to grow for the predicted hotter, drier conditions and for the post Brexit markets – if there are any. I am contemplating planting an olive grove and I am only half joking, especially now that Italian olive oil supplies are reputed to have been taken over by the Mafia.

Worm count

Last month I wrote about worm counts. Since then our local metal detector enthusiast has texted me to say how surprised he is to find so many worms in such chalky soil. Hooray. It is pleasing to have third-party corroboration. I am just sorry he found more worms than treasure.

Also notable are the profusion of worm castings in fields where they have not been as evident before. What is it about this year’s conditions that worms like so much? Any oligochaetologists reading this please do give us your thoughts on the subject.

I have just made a very painful calculation. The cost of my min-till experiment referred to in previous articles is rising by the day. Organic malting barley is currently about £340/tonne, so by ending up having to wholecrop the field it has resulted in an opportunity loss of about £1,000/ha. Note to self – always do experiments in small fields. The redeeming outcome is that despite ploughing, our worm counts are on the rise so perhaps min-till is not always the ultimate panacea.

 

A new year

I am writing this article during the first week of December and it is a bit early to be making New Year resolutions. Nevertheless, I have decided firstly never to under-sow crops with herbal leys but instead to always establish them by ploughing post-harvest. Secondly, not to attempt min-till until someone else has proved how to do it successfully in an organic system. My holiday reading is ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’ by John Steward Collis.

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