13th October 2019

Farm News

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This month’s rainfall figures are as follows – 117 mm (4.74 ins) of rain in September and October has already produced 50.5 mm (2.04 ins) in the first 8 days. This totals 152.5 mm (6.78ins) in the last 15 days – wet by any UK standards. The ground was dry until the 23rd October and has taken this water well but is now approaching field capacity.

Nearly all arable farmers have delayed drilling next year’s cereal crops because of a desire to reduce weed problems and avoid the problems caused by aphids infecting plants with a virus before the winter arrives. The virus can reduce yields by up to 60%. Aphids don’t fly much when temperatures drop below 11C and stop infecting plants when temperatures are under 3C. By delaying the planting the hope is that the emerging cereal plants will be safe from infection by the time they emerge because of early frosts. The trend used to be start planting around 15th September and the target date to finish sowing was 15th October. This is the first year since the removal of a seed dressing that used to protect the plants from the aphid infection. The EU approval was removed from the seed dressing and there is not a substitute that can be used apart from widespread spraying of insecticides that is indiscriminate and will kill beneficials – insects, spiders etc. – hence the later commencement of planting.

Farmers are gardeners and vice versa – weeds are a big problem and allowing them to germinate and then kill them through cultivation or herbicide lessens the competition for the crop or flowers that you want to grow. This is another reason why there is a delay between one crop being harvested and the establishment of the next – just like in a vegetable patch.

If the wet weather continues some crops will not be planted and by November there will certainly be a yield penalty. This will reduce the national grain yield and increase the carbon dioxide (CO2) cost of each tonne produced – the same amount of CO2 will be produced by cultivations, seed production and transport, harvest etc. but if the yield is reduced by 30% that CO2 tonnage will be spread over fewer tonnes hence the increased CO2 cost per tonne.

The aphid situation mentioned above highlights the dilemma faced by rule makers. By protecting one species do they cause a bigger problem elsewhere? The seed dressing that has been banned in the EU was thought to affect bees on flowering crops such as oilseed but was extended to cereals in case there was a linkage but when did you last see a bee showing interest in a wheat plant? – a hazard rather than risk based decision. By reducing the unproven danger to bees in cereal crops (which is an admirable aim) the damage and greater harm to the wider environment has not been considered ie food production, substitute chemicals, CO2 emissions, energy use. This safety first approach whilst considering the single issue needs modifying to a more holistic approach to the whole structure of the countryside and its interdependence.

Whatever the outcome of the Brexit situation there is a huge move towards more sustainability in the UK countryside. Examples are the NFU ambition to turn the agricultural industry carbon neutral by 2040 – which is 10 years before the Government aim of turning the whole country carbon neutral in 2050.

Farmers are increasingly allocating areas of their land to non food crops to benefit the whole ecosystem. In 2020 Hall Farm will be about 7% woodland, 6% nature crops for insects and birds plus about 9% grassland with no fertiliser or sprays again for insects, birds, mammals and invertebrates. To afford such diverse habitats the remaining cropped land needs to be profitable – a business cannot invest in such a diverse landscape and survive without profits and we need the tools to produce good safe crops that allow a good return. These diverse habitats and the very important hedgerows provide a comprehensive system of wildlife corridors for the animals that live in our surrounding countryside to feed and move around.

Earlier this year we hosted a successful farm tour for locals to demonstrate and explain about the farm crops and wildlife areas. My intention is to do the same in May 2020 with 2 separate trips so that more can join us – last year the 2 people trailers were full – with a different route and new features to see. More details later but it will be on a first come basis.

In the meantime office work beckons interspersed by scanning the weather forecasts until the weather improves and the soil dries – doing no field work with a barn full of seed is stressful!

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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