19th May 2020

Farm Diary

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I began and ended last month’s piece with comments about the big dry after the winter’s big wet and a request for rain. It is still dry although we have had some useful rain which should keep the crops, grass and gardens growing well.

Today (15th May) Rob planted nearly 10 acres of areas for wildlife – specifically winter bird food mixes which should keep many birds fed in the winter. The mix includes quinoa, linseed, millet, mustard, radish, sunflower, triticale, kale and barley seeds which will provide a good supply of small seeds during the autumn and winter months for the birds.

The flowering period for these crops will provide pollen for bees and other insects later in the summer and autumn. These bird feeding areas are in 8 quiet locations around the farm so that birds will not have to travel too far from their home ground to access these sites and yet be undisturbed by walkers and dogs. Walkers on footpaths are great but nature needs its own quiet spaces. The winter is when the majority of deaths occur to birds because of a lack of suitable food and hopefully these plots will reduce these losses especially if we have a cold winter.

In July we will be sowing some more areas with nectar producing plants to encourage bee and other insects. It will be possible to see one of these plots which will be the other side of the fence on the footpath from Tinkers Lane to the access road to Bentworth Hall.

There is now plenty of pressure on me because it will be clearly evident if my planting has been successful by late summer. The area planted to these nectar crops will be about 5 acres in total around the farm. This site will have a mix of the following seeds – early and late flowering red clovers, alsike clover, sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, black knapweed and musk mallow.

A small third site is to be sown with wild flowers which will aid birds and pollinators if successful – this area will be more difficult to establish. Species will include birdsfoot trefoil, sorrel, cowslip, lady’s bedstraw, knapweed, buttercup, meadowsweet, ox eye daisy, red campion, ribwort plaintain, sainfoin, self heal!, scabious, salad burnet, white campion, wild carrot, yarrow, corn cockle, corn marigold, cornflower, poppy and yellow rattle. The more observant of you will have seen quite a few of these species on your footpath walks around Hall Farm already but this is an attempt to colonise a new area.

The cowslips at the lower end of Tinkers Lane have been stunning this spring and the area that they have colonised increases each year. The bluebells and wild garlic displays have also been stunning. The wonderful weather that we have enjoyed in recent weeks combined with the lack of aircraft vapour trails has resulted in some very bright days which have highlighted the natural world’s colours.

Will the clear skies increase photosynthesis and therefore crop yields this year? It would be nice to think so but the wet winter has done its damage – the forecast for the UK national wheat yield this year is about 10 million tonnes as opposed to the 15 million tonnes of wheat harvested in 2019. Dry weather in Russia and Ukraine plus political moves to limit international grain trade because of the Covid situation have also pushed grain prices higher.

Wildlife spotted in the last week include a badger in early afternoon travelling across a wheat field, many hares playing, deer, squirrels and of course red kite and buzzards.

Politically the farming community are lobbying MPs and the Lords about the Agriculture Bill which is intended to shape the countryside, guide food production for our population and conservation for many decades. One of our greatest concerns is the Government’s refusal to ban imported food that has been produced to standards or using methods that would be illegal if used by a UK farmer. Why should this substandard and potentially unsafe food be allowed into this country thus undercutting UK producers. There is also the issue of food security and supply which has been highlighted by the current Covid situation with some national borders closed. The draft Bill makes few references to food production, food security and farming which is strange when titled the “Agriculture Bill” 2020.

Will you be happy if US beef is imported that has been treated with growth hormones and the animals reared on concrete yards OR allowed to roam and graze grass freely in a natural way as in the UK? Will you eat grains treated with chemicals that are deemed to be unsafe and illegal to use in the UK yet can be applied to crops grown elsewhere in the world and then imported to the UK. Do you want to eat imported chicken that is reared to outdated welfare standards that are illegal in the UK. All of us eat food and meals that contain soya (I believe vegans and vegetarians eat a lot of soya in their diet) but much of that is produced on land that was rain forest in Brazil and Argentina. Maybe one good outcome of Covid will be a greater understanding about our food, how it is produced, supply chains and the environmental impact of that food.

UK farming operates under some of the most stringent controls in the world, is audited and can produce wonderful food whilst caring for the environment and countryside – why import lesser quality supplies that very often has a greater detrimental impact upon the world on which we live? Cheap is not necessarily good.

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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