Our winter barley harvest started a little earlier than usual, though only one day earlier than in 2018, all 113ha was Maris Otter, and most came off at around 13.5% moisture, with good grain size (low screenings and retentions, it did not need screen cleaning). The yield was the best ever here for Otter, at 6.2 t/ha. Big heap feed barley growers might scoff, but Otter (bred in 1966) is a consistent performer for us, the margin is always up there with the spring barleys in a normal year for base price and premium. We enjoy growing it, in particular testing the results once skilled brewers like St Austell, Flack Manor, Butcombe and the Dorset Sixpenny brewery have done their best with it.
The oilseed rape was ready on 14th July, very similar to 2018 but a good deal earlier than most years. It did not need spraying with glyphosate, it had ripened evenly and in good time, with seed moistures between 6.5 and 7.5%. The yields were good where allowed to grow undamaged by animals, (over 4t/ha in some fields), but terrible where the farmer had insisted on grazing with sheep for all sorts of sound reasons like weed, insect and disease avoidance, the only downside being yield avoidance. After 3 years of this experiment, initiated with Innovative Farmers as part of the search for OSR survival techniques in face of the flea beetle onslaught following the ban on neonics, we have got the message. The sheep have been sold, so it won’t be happening again.
Driving back from a bad news session at our local tractor dealer last Saturday, my eye was caught by a very pretty field margin near Dewlish, Dorchester. Closer examination revealed cornflowers, corn marigolds, ox-eye daisies, poppies (!) and others, mostly annuals. The richness of colour and the buzz of the bees helped to sweep away the blues induced by being told that one of our tractors has a near terminal condition, terminal either for the tractor or the bank account, we just have to decide which. How is it that a 10 year old tractor with just 6000 hours on the clock can be rendered almost worthless by a breakdown due to nothing more than poor manufacturing? Why do we have no comeback on the manufacturer who happily took £100,000 off us in 2012, and walked away after the original warranty expired?
Anyway, back to the flowers, I stood there transfixed by their beauty, wondering which is better, a perennial mix, which only needs to be established once, and can be good for 10 or 15 years of pollen and nectar provision, but doesn’t look as remotely colourful as this one, or are annuals better for attracting insects and providing nectar, with the drawback of needing re-sowing every year? Without doubt the annuals are good for impressing people, planted alongside public paths and roads they are sure to attract the right kind of attention, but for busy farmers who are always time poor, doing it just once is usually going to be preferable. Not so good for the soil to have to resow every year either.
I am definitely not the best person to send out for the weekly shop, I always takes far too long. Starting at the newspaper rack just inside the door of our local supermarket, the blood pressure begins to rise simply on reading the headlines across the selection of daily papers lying there. Stupid puns abound for starters, but what really gets me going is the tribalism and narrow mindedness shown by so many of them. Mostly the mouthpieces of very rich people with axes to grind, I can’t understand why people buy any of them at all.
Moving on into the fruit and veg aisle, things don’t improve, with apples, carrots, tomatoes and mushrooms for example. They all grow very well indeed in the UK. The technology for fresh produce storage is amazing these days, you can still buy English apples in July that taste nearly as fresh as the day they were picked. And in less than a month the new crop will be available. Why then are we shipping in apples from South Africa calling them seasonal, the appalling French granny smiths, or worst of all Gala apples from Argentina and calling them organic.
English carrots are available for a great deal of the year, they are stored in the ground for months, and dug as required to suit the market, presumably they can also be kept in cold storage. Why then do we need to import ‘Tendersweet’ carrots from Guatemala in July ?
Mushrooms, as far as I can tell, are like many people, kept in the dark and fed on bullshit, and this can be done anywhere. There used to be a large mushroom farm not far from here, near Sturminster Newton, but they gave up the unequal fight with their supermarket customer a few years ago. They also used to provide a useful source of compost for neighbouring farmers to purchase. Why are we importing them from Poland and selling them in identical packaging to the English ones produced in Cambridgeshire?
And lastly tomatoes; If our greenhouse is anything to go by, July is UK peak tomato season. Modern techniques and innovative heat sources have extended the tomato season hugely over the last 10 years, for example using waste heat from AD plants or from sugarbeet factories. However the tomato shelf in our local is dominated by Moroccan, Polish and Spanish tomatoes, even in July, the only UK ones are the premium range, with a limited number of sizes.
I know I should shop more widely, and only spend where I will give the right signal to the market with my purchasing, but sadly convenience has a value too, and there is not much choice in Blandford. It also gives me something to
rant write about.
So much for taking back control, for levelling up, and for ensuring fairness in the marketplace. Our mean-minded and mendacious government has squirmed out of allowing parliament the chance to debate the Australian trade deal before the summer recess, and the Tory majority will nod it through. They seem to be happy to see our own food industry slowly strangled to death, and I haven’t even reached the meat and dairy aisles yet.
For a complete change in style and content, an old friend from Wye College days has very kindly written an account of his current work in The Republic of Congo, not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo, its five times larger neighbour. Steven Humphreys is working as a Consultant there, after a long career stretching over many countries and many issues. So much of my ranting on these pages relates to first world problems, Steve’s tale will take us into the rainforest and explain some of the issues there, where the ground rules are so very different.
In case you missed it, and meant to go back to it, here again is the link to Steve Humphreys’ piece: The View from the Rainforest
10 years ago on the Hill including an account of the wettest summer for many years, there were floods in July!