17th September 2019

Farm Diary

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Thanks for the many responses to my September article – it is great to know that many do read my notes and they are apparently informative.

Rainfall – 2019 is very much an average rainfall year with decent amounts falling every month. August was 69 mm (2.8 ins) with a wet spell between 6th and 19th. The 12 month rolling total is a normal 989 mm (40 ins). The driest month so far in 2019 was January 35mm (1.4 ins) and the wettest June 131mm (5.3 ins) – probably not what many would expect.

Harvest concluded on 5th September which was a day earlier than 2018. A lack of trucks to shift grains meant that we had several days waiting without cutting because there was nowhere to tip the trailers from the fields at the Grainstore. A quick note on grain haulage out of the village – the truck sizes have not increased in recent years despite a perception to the contrary. If the village is to stay as it is with open rolling fields that are cropped then the produce has to be transported away – if some villagers don’t like trucks in the village then the alternative is houses everywhere. During the harvest period there are insufficient trucks to move all of the grain when required hence the need to use those that are around early and late plus weekends and the August Bank Holiday. It is very unhelpful if locals yell and shout abuse at the drivers as happened this season – they are doing their jobs and a side benefit is that they do slow the traffic passing through the village from Medstead.

Harvest itself was very good with record yields for us (and many in the South) from crops sown last autumn, but the spring 2019 sown crops were very disappointing. I think the few very hot days that we enjoyed came at an unfortunate time in the spring crops development so that the number of grain sites on the plant were reduced thus lowering yield. The grains were smaller than most years with oats locally having a bushel weight of around 40 whilst further west grains going into the Store at Shrewton averaged 51 – that is effectively a 25% yield reduction and creates marketing problems because none of the cereal / porridge / oat bar producers want small grains.

The downside to higher yields this year is that the price of grains has dropped by about £40 tonne compared to 2018 – a 20 to 25% price reduction so it all balances out. Most seasons are like this – more grains worth less or fewer grains worth more.

Looking forward to next year we will be planting nectar flower areas in several fields using the field corners that have a warm sunny aspect which will hopefully encourage bees, field song birds, insects and beetles etc. by providing a greater variety of seeds for them to eat. These areas will total about 12 acres plus leaving about 40 acres uncropped each year on a rotating basis to provide nesting habitats for birds that prefer open ground such as skylarks.

What is hard for many to comprehend is that there are so many species that share the earth with us humans – the Soil Association which is the organic farming trade organisation tell us that 1 teaspoonful of soil has more living organisms than people living. We (quite rightly) fuss over a few headline species such as red kites and otters in the UK but that does not even start to scratch the surface of the environment that we live in.

Knee jerk reactions to a seeming problem can actually produce a greater problem in the solution – an example is plastic bags that do untold damage but the solution in alternative materials which are heavier result in packaging being 3.6 times heavier thus using more energy by 2.2 times and 2.7 times more CO2 emissions. House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

Electric cars (also trucks, ships, planes etc..) are promoted as the answer to the global transportation problem whilst eliminating harmful emissions. It is true that electric transportation does produce zero emissions but at what cost?

  • In much of the world the electricity is produced by coal fired power stations that are terrible for the environment with China leading the way currently producing 973609 megawatts of power (70% of China’s requirement) with another 300 to 500 coal plants planned to be operating by 2030. In many countries electric cars are effectively coal fired and therefore hugely polluting to the global environment!
  • The increasing electric transportation system requires an increase in vehicle battery capacity from the current 151 GWh to 933 GWh by 2025.
  • Batteries require rare minerals to work with a 6000 t shortfall in cobalt (a mix of copper and nickel), lithium a 650,000 t shortfall and many other rare metals many of which are mined at huge environmental cost.
  • The battery production for a Tesla electric car will produce about 14 tonne of CO2.
  • A Tesla electric car will emit about 34 tonnes of CO2 in production, usage and disposal after about 150,000 kilometres travelled. A similar sized Audi diesel car would emit 35 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime. That 1 t of CO2 saved cost £4500 in Government subsidies to encourage such purchases

My point is that a lot of headline statistics and green policies are not what they seem, although worthy in their aims. Similarly criticism of British food production is often a single issue cause and ignores the overall effect to the environment. We have a huge responsibility to take a wide view when shaping the future of our world and remember all of the species and organisms that we do not see because it is a finely balanced global ecosystem. An example is that one dose of glyphosate (1.5 litres per hectare) kills a lot of weeds whereas to achieve a similar effect with a tractor causes huge amounts of CO2 to be released from the energy required to pull the cultivator and as a side effect large amounts of CO2 by disturbing the soil.

Julian Lewis

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]

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