Since my last article in November nothing much has changed, we are still carrying on as before, seeing as winter has not really arrived, ploughing, shooting and finishing off the drainage work.
The crops are all looking very good for January; we have missed the bulk of the rain seen in the South and West of the UK, with only the odd day of heavy rain over Christmas and New Year.
Despite the mild weather the cereals have covered the ground well, with no varieties showing much apical dominance. Of all the crops walked this winter Claire looks the best variety, sown quite late on heavy ground, but it is just a carpet of tillers.
N-min tests are being done on oilseed rape crops and a random sample of wheat ground, with so little winter rain and lower requirements from previous crops we should be able to save some inputs. It has been mild as well, prompting warnings of outbreaks of ‘Warrior’ yellow rust in January in Scotland.
No signs here though, just mildew on barley and septoria on wheat.
The agronomy is obviously very dependent on weather and crop potential, but after finalising 2013 harvest reports, with some entire spray programmes less than £110/hectare and reasonable crop yields, our agronomists have now set themselves a new benchmark.
With the mild, open winter we have also been experimenting with some companion crops, mainly volunteer spring beans, which look fantastic. They are probably too big for frost to kill them so some CMPP will be applied in spring, but for now they are fixing some nitrogen and will provide some organic matter eventually.
At the end of November I went to Poland for four days, with a great group of lads under David Neale’s (Agrii) supervision to look at the consultancy and seed dressing work Dalgety Polska are involved with.
We all came away very impressed but rough.
The Polish who showed us around were full of enthusiasm for agriculture in their country and wanted to learn from the UK – and made us all drink and live like Poles for four days.
The main investment going on while we were there was infrastructure in Gdansk being built to accommodate the huge exports the country is now capable of producing.
Their agriculture sector has seen as much change in 20 years as the UK had in 60, with the help of some necessary grants from the EU and input from Western Europeans with agronomy and mechanisation.
They have gone from importing 10 million tonnes of wheat five years ago to exporting 5m tonnes this year and this will continue to increase.
The other point was the time for outside investment in land looked almost over, with so much land tied up in small Polish farms all over the country the big domestic farms are as desperate to increase acreage as any British farmer is.
The variability in land also stood out; having listened to stories of six foot of topsoil and huge expanses of land, which is true in places, but there were just as many regions with shallow, stony land on very small holdings.
Since the men have been back on-farm winter ploughing and drainage has continued when dry enough.
Donny in the workshop has converted our 16t Rolland grain trailer into a drying trailer by fabricating a drying floor and adapting the heat exchanger on the Alvan Blanch drier to blow hot air through the trailer.
It has been working well so far and after all the wind damage before Christmas we will be chipping brash to supply our burner and produce dry woodchips for someone else to burn in their burner.
Focus has also been on the CAP reform and what implications it will have on the business. It looks as though everybody, arable, hill or upland, will lose out, but the Environmental Focus Areas will have a lot of practical implications for arable farmers.
The three crop rule is going to affect everybody, especially if we continue to have extreme weather like the previous two years when whole sowing seasons can be disrupted.
It is not something we aim to do but due to how spread around we are, there are certain situations where block cropping is almost a necessity for us in terms of efficiency of field work and practicalities of storing separate seed, fertiliser and grain.
It will take some extra planning to comply with the new proposals.