Today is 9th November and the arable part of the farm has quietened considerably. Planting the winter crops was completed on the 19th October with approx. 85 acres of oilseed, 90 acres of barley and 490 acres of wheat sown since late September. The most productive day was 93 acres of wheat sown but that included an 11.30 pm finish because heavy rain was predicted. (It did rain heavily so the long day was worthwhile). Once a seedbed is created the seed needs to be sown quickly because even if the soil is dry rain will quickly make that field impossible to plant into the fine soil because it becomes a quagmire after maybe only 0.5 inches of rain. The aim when sowing in the field (or garden) is for a healthy soil environment with the correct fertility, soil structure and micro- organisms. This will enable the seed to receive nutrients and most importantly moisture to help the seed chit (grow shoots and roots). The structure is different to soil texture. Soil texture is the soil composition and little can be done about that – if your soil is sandy or stony it will always be so. Structure of the soil can be altered by good husbandry – a well- structured soil will allow roots to develop and find moisture and nutrients from depth so the plant is not limited by drought or other weather extremes. The structure can be improved by the weather – the dry conditions this summer cracked the soil to depth and this will allow plant roots to penetrate more in future years or deeper cultivations. Even when the rain comes and the cracks close the soil layers will still be more fractured allowing the roots to go deeper. Wheat plant roots can easily grow to be 1.5 metres deep and oilseed plants 2 metres or more. The same will apply to garden plants.
Do not cultivate when the soil is wet or the natural good work from this season’s dryness will be lost. With farm machinery it is more difficult not to damage the soils because of the weight of the kit but wide tyres with pressures of only 8 psi do help enormously to spread the weight. My system of establishing crops is based around spraying the weeds from the previous crop, 1 deepish cultivation, 1 shallow cultivation, seeding and then rolling to get that soil to seed contact followed by another spray which will reduce the number of weeds that emerge with the crop. No ploughing because that will kill worms, fauna and destroy organic matter that will increase CO2 emissions.
Mr Gove, the DEFRA Minister, wants to move farmers to system of rewards for looking after the soil well rather than food production. This is superficially a good idea but ignores the fact that soils are different within fields, parishes, districts and counties. Additionally there are climatic factors and essentially the grower has to respond to what is dealt to him – improving the soil is a very long term project and the idea that a politically designed system can be imposed on nature is nuts. We have the soil tested and can demonstrate that the organic matter levels are increasing but it is a very slow process.
Mr Gove again upset farmers when he was questioned at the Conservative Party Conference Food and Farming debate. He stated on a number of occasions that the number of pesticide products licensed for use in the UK will diminish because of concerns about food safety and/or the environment BUT it will be totally OK to import foods from abroad which have been produced using those same banned pesticides. So to clarify he says it is totally OK for the consumer to eat food that is produced abroad using products that are deemed illegal if used in this country. UK farmers are very happy to compete with any other farmers in the world if there is a level playing field i.e. foreign food meets the high UK standards. What is not acceptable is to import food that is produced using methods and welfare standards that are illegal in the UK thus undermining our own producers.
The whole food industry needs to be open about where the food is sourced especially the catering and manufacturing companies. Often supermarkets have British products on the shelves with imported similar products at a cheaper price nearby with the implication that the foreign food is produced to the same standard but cheaper and this is what the shopper often selects as seen in many trade surveys. This marketing strategy is falsely giving the cheaper imported food the respectability of higher British standards but does not match those standards.
If the UK negotiates new trade deals we will be swamped with food that is produced to low standards especially with regard to welfare. The farming press have been investigating US agriculture and their producers are expecting to supply huge quantities of food to the UK that will be produced using standards that would be illegal here and if employed here the farmer would be prosecuted and probably imprisoned. Spend your money wisely.
Finally much of the weather this year has been wonderful and continues with the magnificent autumn colours – same again next year please.
[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]