February 2003

The View from the Hill February 2003

This year at Travellers Rest we will be growing six different crops for a wide assortment of uses.

First of all, winter wheat, which was sown in the autumn, has been alternately drowned and frozen solid in recent weeks, and will be harvested next august.  A good proportion will hopefully be good enough quality to go to a flour mill, in Southampton or Andover, then to be baked into bread, maybe even returning to supermarket shelves in Blandford as loaves of bread. 

We loaded 100 tonnes of last harvest’s wheat out of our grainstore just before Christmas, which was taken to Southampton in lorries, then loaded onto a 50,000 tonne ship, bound for the ports of Australia.  As you read this, it should be nearly there.  The ship costs $2,000,000 to charter for a cargo like this, and together with handling and other charges at each end of the journey, the Australian farmers at the other end will be paying almost twice what we got for the grain!

A number of factors have coincided to bring about this deal (part of a 150,000 ton consignment).  The first is that the Australian wheat growing areas have suffered a three year drought, and they have produced massively less grain than usual.  Secondly the price of wheat in the UK is lower than for more than 20 years, and is one of the cheapest sources of wheat in the world, and thirdly, the Australians have always been fastidious about health and hygiene of imported goods, anyone who has travelled there will know what I mean.  This is now an advantage to the UK, where we have had voluntary assurance schemes in place for most farm produce for several years.  Many farmers now belong to a scheme, and the traceability they offer is a major reason why the Australians have bought from us and not from other less reliable and even cheaper sources.

The circumstances leading to this unique deal have not been seen before, and are unlikely to be repeated for a very long time.

We are also growing barley this year.  A large proportion of this, including the field we call Wynchard, up the Sutcombe valley behind the village, is destined for Spain next harvest, to be turned into bioethanol, which is then added to petrol and used in cars as a green fuel.  It would make a lot more sense to build factories to do this in Britain, but unfortunately our government insists that we must pay more tax on green fuel than they do in Spain and the rest of Europe, so once again we lose out to other countries.

Most of the rest of our barley is grown for malt, which is used for brewing beer and lager.  Some is exported to Europe, and some goes to local maltings at Warminster or  Newton Abbot, for real ales like Marston’s Pedigree, Hook Norton Haymaker, or Ringwood Best. More on crops in Durweston next month.     

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