21st March 2020

Farm Diary

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The rainfall recorded in February was the most for any month in this wet winter 225.5 mm (9.13 ins) and over only 29 days. The good news is that today I heard a weather forecast that said a warm dry spell is coming – you have no idea how much I hope this is true because the situation is getting pretty serious on the farm.

We have still only planted about 225 acres of crops out of an arable area of nearly 870 acres so about 25% whereas normally that would be approaching 100% by now. When I first started at Hall Farm in 1983 the aim was to have all crops planted by 12th March apart from maybe a few acres of linseed. The changes to the weather patterns with wet winters spilling (apologies) over into March and the consequent late springs means that has not been achieved for many years. How far will these changes go and what are the consequences for all of us?

The planned crops for 2020 harvest have been radically changed so that we are going to be sowing 360 acres of spring wheat, 125 acres of spring barley, 60 acres of oats and 80 acres of beans. My theory is that the BIG WET is going to be followed by the BIG DRY so we need to get the crops planted and established before that begins thus ruling out linseed and spring oilseed which are variable performers at best and cannot be planted until April. The price of wheat is good looking forward so that is my gamble. Yields will be less than winter sown crops but the growing costs should be less so hopefully a reasonable financial margin will be achieved.

The low area of UK winter plantings has led to estimates that the national harvest of wheat will drop from 15.5 million t in 2019 to about 9 million tonnes in 2020 – prepare for lots of imported grain.

There is one massive question for those negotiating the UK’s future trading status with regard to food. The UK imports about 55% of our food requirements – we could produce more food here but Government policy prefers a cheap food policy so much is imported.

The question that affects food quality, welfare, the environment and security is should food produced overseas using methods that would be illegal in the UK be allowed to be sold here? Or should all imported food meet UK standards of production? Are you happy that food produced overseas may contain injected growth hormones, be routinely treated with antibiotics thus encouraging resistance to all antibiotics, that animal welfare standards overseas maybe illegal if used in the UK and unacceptable to British consumers, that pesticides that are deemed illegal in the UK for safety or environmental reasons can be used to treat the imported food that you eat? If the UK Government pursues an open door policy to food imports regardless of UK quality standards UK Agriculture will not survive apart from niche producers. Remember the majority of your food is already imported and some produced to standards that would be illegal if grown in the UK – that cannot be right. Quality food cannot be produced cheaply.

On a lighter note the 2019 farm tour was very well received and we are offering a similar experience this year. The actual tour will take you in seated covered trailers around some fields looking at a variety of crops, wildlife areas, through woodland and hopefully offering the opportunity to see some wildlife. It will not be too much about politics but more about what is growing and living in the fields surrounding the villages where you live – come and find out, ask questions and see the area from a different perspective.

This tour is not very suitable for small children and certainly no dogs. Please contact Jenny on wombatwidget@gmail.com or phone 564088 to book your place on Saturday 16th May – please give numbers. If there is sufficient interest we may run another tour on Sunday 17th May. Meet at Hall Farm Grainstore, Holt End Lane at 2 pm.

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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