View from the Hill 20th September 2021
Early morning sunrise over the Stour Valley north of Blandford last week, with mist on the meadows and a beautiful sun breaching the dawn horizon.
The combine hitches off the header next to some appreciative sunflowers, they no longer have to look at the neighbouring field of horribly flat barley every day. This marked the passing of the lowest point in a sometimes frustrating harvest, all the spring barley had been hit badly by the stormy weather back in July, and the next picture shows the importance of regular cleaning out of the combine’s stone trap after cutting flat crops.
An odd year for the spring barley, even though it had lain low for many weeks, once harvested we discovered with relief that it is still of malting quality, not a bad yield either. Never having been a keen user of conventional growth regulator on barley, to my cost perhaps, a chance meeting with an organic agronomist this weekend elicited interesting advice on the use of molasses as a straw strengthener for cereals. Note to self – must find out more….
In the mean time, the barley and all our other crops now sit in the grainstore, I have sold some while the price has been good, but when to sell the rest?
A pollen plastered bumble bee getting drunk on nectar from a sunflower.
This yield map shows very clearly what happens when some clever buggers with ropes and planks, or fancy gps, break into your wheat field at night to make pretty patterns.
Here is what it looked like when freshly made. A high proportion of the area was flattened, and we barely picked up any wheat from those bits.
While the rest of the world was relaxing on Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, a small team of spudders were out in the field lifting, picking and bagging this year’s tattie crop. We grew several different varieties this year, on a thankfully smaller area than last year. The top croppers were Cara and Sarpo Mira, with some real beauties suitable for baking, and plenty of good sized spuds, easy to scrub, also good for roasting, chipping or boiling. Other varieties included Pink Fir apples, good with salads and when roasted in small chunks, Pentland Dell and Charlotte did ok, but Ratte were a disappointment. No sprays were used, and blight had got into some varieties more than others by the time we dug them. Cara and S Mira are good for blight resistance.
Pig farmer friends are telling me of their pain from the Brexit/covid induced crisis at the slaughter end of the industry. Shortages of staff, previously many were eastern Europeans, due to our government’s unfriendly stance towards foreigners, are causing chaos in many sectors, hence the NFUs call for a covid passport system. Pig finishers are having to roll forward up to 25% of their finished pigs every week. This means more feed, overcrowding, pigs going over spec (getting too fat), and the problem is getting worse every week. Sow prices are on the floor, so selling up is hardly an option. Production cycles are long and it takes 6 months to ramp down production, without considering the nuclear option of killing piglets. Grain prices are not helping either, and this is a crisis worse than most, way beyond the classic pig cycle, and it is important to know what is going on in this British industry. In the mean time where are our dear retailers buying pork products from to keep the shelves full……?
Since Brexit, British meat exporters have been finding it very hard to export meat to Europe, due to european import regulations, even to Belfast, whereas european meat continues to pour into the UK largely unchecked. Our farm standards are generally higher than almost anywhere else, and it is not right to import cheap foods from lower standard producers when our own producers cannot even get their animals slaughtered.
Tesco should hang their heads in shame, the packaging for their gammon joints is almost identical whether British or Danish, who has the time to examine every package for its provenance?
Read the label, many retailers are very sneaky. Tesco have other examples, such as asparagus from Peru on the shelves during the UK asparagus season, and closed cup mushrooms in near identical packaging, from three different countries (Poland, Ireland and the UK), on sale at the same time. How are we going to solve the climate crisis when this is going on ? Is it down to the consumer to spot it and act, or is it for the retailer to be made to act responsibly ?
A meeting in a field in Oxfordshire last week between staff from DEFRA, some poppy growers, and our poppy buyer was helping to bring the DEFRA team up to speed on the UK poppy growing sector, which included explaining the importance of the government establishing a grower licensing scheme, so that we can export the products of our crops. At one point the host farmer’s terrier decided that she would do her best to help the discussion along.
This year we have run fertiliser trials in several fields, and in this field and its neighbour we cut each tramline separately hoping that each treatment shows up clearly on the yield map. We have yet to establish clearly what differences were there, but photos taken before harvest led us to think there would be. The darker strips look like they should yield more than the lighter ones.