October 2008

View from the Hill                                                           23rd September 2008


With a huge surge of relief, and a suitably rural celebration, we finally harvested the last of the 2008 crop on Sunday 21st September, around 3 weeks later than we would normally hope to finish, it has been a bit of a trial this year to say the least, needless to say the miserable august that everyone has endured was no help at all in getting harvest done.

We have had to burn a huge amount more fuel than usual this year simply to dry the grain.  Most of our crop was harvested at between 17 and 19% moisture, and it must be 14.5% to store safely, so many midnight hours came and went to keep the drier going 24 hours a day, so that we had room for the grain that the combine would cut the next day.  Most years we might expect to dry a third to a half of the harvest, this year it must be well over 90 percent.  The lack of any decent dry period until last week meant that every time the crops got just about dry enough, it rained again.  Consequently, out of desperation, we, and many other farmers, have cut wheat at up to 23% moisture, at these levels the grain sticks in the trailers and bins, and needs a lot of shoveling as it won’t flow like it does normally, and drying is a very slow and expensive business.

In the end, although the quality of the wheat in particular is not good after all the rain, at least the quantities have been good this year, apart from the last few wheat fields, where some of the grain had fallen out, and some had started to sprout in the ear.  The borage, (who didn’t notice the attractive purple crop above the village back in July?)  when finally scraped off the ground last week, did at least yield up a few tonnes of seed, after 5 weeks lying on the ground, and 5 and a half inches of rain on it.  It is amazing that it ever dried out enough to harvest last week.  The beans have been a revelation, the poor old combine driver was left to cut and haul them on his own, and he couldn’t believe how quickly the trailers filled up.  We must have had our best ever bean yield, funnily enough in exactly the same fields as our previous bean record 6 years ago.  We will not know for sure until we have weighed them properly, but there is a very impressive bean mountain in the barn.  If we cannot weigh crops in the grainstore, we make a rough estimate by counting trailers, or by using the combine yield meter if it is calibrated properly first.


The weather is also responsible for other problems, such as a huge increase in the slug population.  Slugs always enjoy a wet summer, and have multiplied thick and fast this year, so much so that next year’s rape crop that we sowed in the last few days of August was completely devoured, and we have had to buy more seed, and sow most of it all over again, very frustrating.


In one of the short dry interludes, the poppy harvesting gang turned up and managed to whip off the poppies, if anyone saw the harvester they were lucky, because it was driven very fast, and was only here for a day.  They say they must drive fast because it helps to cut all the heads off at the same height, to my view it means they leave quite a lot behind in the field.  We have yet to receive the results of the poppy harvest, which we need to know before we can decide whether we can afford to grow them again next year.


There may be a bit of night time bleating in the next few days, for which I apologise, this is because weaning time is nearly upon us, the lambs must be taken away from their mums, who are desperate for some peace and quiet.


When I was trying to get around to writing in July and August, but kept missing the NEWS deadline, I had been hoping to write about sensitive issues like Ragwort, the modern-day disgrace of the countryside; and Prince Charles, the modern-day bastion against modernity, after his unguarded, and over-emotional comments about GM crops, as well as this year’s harvest, which back in July had us all feeling optimistic that we couldn’t possibly have another wet harvest like 2007.  How much more wrong could we have got it?  I will try to return to the first two subjects another time.  This week we hope to start wheat sowing, at least after the wet weather the soil is in pretty good condition for sowing next year’s crops, but we will have to continue to be very vigilant for slugs.  The best tool for discouraging them is a good heavy roller, which packs the soil down, and makes it more difficult for them to move around.  The last resort is to reach for the slug pellets.  I am told a good cure for slugs in the garden is crushed eggshells, we would have to break a lot of eggs for that to be any use on a field scale.

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