24th February 2019

Farm News

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Rainfall so far in 2019 has been 35 mm or less than an inch and a half so a low total for January. February has started wet with 67.5 mm in the first 10 days but the forecast is dry for the coming week. The ground is much too wet for tractors to travel in the fields without making huge ruts but soon the first fertiliser will be applied to meet the nutritional needs from the plants emerging from the winter – the annual spreading machine MoT is this Tuesday. The test is required to show that the machine is in good order and also to ensure that the spread pattern is accurate so that the granules are distributed accurately over the 24 metre spreading width. Each year the fertiliser varies with some granules being either larger or smaller. If the granules are larger they fly through the air further so the angle of the spreading vanes on the spinning discs are reduced to reduce the throw and vice versa for granules that are on average lighter. A pass certificate is one of the requirements for the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme which allows the grain to be sold under the Red Tractor Assurance label.

The first crops to receive nitrogen fertiliser will be oilseed, winter barley and then the wheat crops with smaller plants. An application plan has to be completed before spreading can commence – this is also part of the Scheme’s requirement and also a Defra requirement. As the day length increases and the sun seems warmer the crops and plants can be seen to be making some growth and whilst walking I can hear birdsong again – spring is coming.

This testing routine also applies to the crop sprayer to ensure that it is working well. Nationally over 50% of machines have no faults and those with one fault take the total to 75%. All faults, which can be very minor, have to be rectified before the machine can be used.

Additionally I have been on a course to ensure that I am up to date with the latest application methods and topical issues. This covers anything from new sprayer technology, pesticide stores, rodent control, the availability of pesticides, liaison with bee keepers etc. Again this is a Red Tractor Assurance Scheme requirement. Finally last week I took a refresher course on advising and calculating fertiliser rates which includes manures, water Nitrogen Vulnerable Zones (which we are in) and much more followed by an online exam. Without this annual testing I would not be on the national Register and able to make fertiliser recommendations to clients. Many industries and professions also have to adhere to continual professional development training but I did not want you to think that what happens in the fields is undertaken haphazardly and partly answers the question – what do farmers do in the winter?

The last lambs from the 2018 lamb crop will be sold before the end of February – the price has risen although currently is not as high as this time last year. As part of our crop rotation we always grow turnips after a 2018 harvested crop and before a 2019 spring planted crop – known as a catch crop. This feeds the sheep and also benefits the ground by using any residual fertiliser left from the previous crop and grazing any weeds whilst improving soil structure.

In the last issue of the Villager the nature section mentioned a cull of Ravens giving the impression that there is a national sport in killing them on farms. A very little research on the web found that the licences recently issued by the Natural England in England to kill ravens are as follows – 2016 for 12 ravens, 2017 for 19 ravens and just 15 in 2018 and these are issued because a few ravens get into the awful habit of removing eyes from live animals – especially newly born lambs. Raven numbers are increasing in the UK and there are thought to be over 7000 breeding pairs so that it is a resident species now rather than an occasional visitor – a success story. I would suggest that the impression given last month is far from the reality – headlines attract attention but we should avoid going down the road of sensationalism without checking the facts – the facts are available on the Natural England website and blog of 12th December 2018. Look for the Natural England blog with “the facts about licences for wild birds”.

I have been asked on a number of occasions to arrange a farm tour to show residents from the local villages what happens and why on the farms that surround where you live. Although this is at a very early stage of planning we hope it will take place in late April or early May and will be on specially built trailers towed by tractors that I shall borrow. Hopefully it will be informative with the opportunity for all to ask questions. Further details to follow but it will be for limited numbers only for obvious practical reasons so please wait to register your interest.

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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