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Rodney Down: Sunny days have helped maize thrive but cattle is proving costly

What a fantastic month June turned out to be after a worrying start. Fusarium can only be seen in some fields where we used old seed but generally crops look very well.
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Black-grass and wild oats are present in most fields, easily justified when nearly all fields are the same this year.


The maize has really thrived with the sunny spell and I do not think we have ever seen a crop catch up in such a short time. Even the late-drilled crops are knee high with the best up to my chest.


Usually one enterprise or crop disappoints each year and this time it is the beef cattle holding the wooden spoon, closely followed by the cereals. I am still wondering how to make the cattle figures work.


When we start calving at the end of this month I see us selling beef calves at market. But the black and whites? I must be getting old as a few years ago I would be piling into the beef in the hope of better times. It has worked before but with global beef numbers rising, a strong pound and consumption stagnating, I cannot see it turning a corner quickly.


So we are now into July and maintenance jobs and are on the cards. A bit of concreting and fencing is keeping the staff who are not on holiday busy.


All our staff have a couple of weeks off between June and August as we are not milking many and are not calving either. My mind is occupied with crop planning and how, with all our agreements, we are going to satisfy everybody’s needs.


And then there is the new crazy rule about hedge cutting. Not all hedges are cut in August so why can we not just cut some? We are trying to squeeze ever more into a narrower window. A better trade-off would have been a voluntary agreement so we will not cut more than 25 per cent in August. That way, early planted fields could still be trimmed before cultivations.


May I wish you all a trouble-free, barn-busting harvest.

Rodney Down


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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