Monitor Farm Update #harvest15

Another damp cold morning in August has put stop to another morning, if not day, of combining for us at Lodge Farm. The forecast looks wet for seven days so I think it will be September when the combine comes out again. Not yet at emergency-worry-level but it is taking its toll on my receding hair line! The harvest of 2015 has been a frustrating one for many reasons which all come back to the controlling factor of sunshine and the lack of it!

Sunshine is key in our game. Through photosynthesis, plants use the sunshine to create sugar and energy to grow and we harvest the fruits of that growth, but, more importantly, sunshine at harvest makes everything run smoother and it makes you feel good about things.

I sit here with 80% of the farm combined. I have 10ha of winter wheat, 70ha of spring barley and a block of 50ha of linseed and spring beans. I have got sheds that are getting full as yields have been above our five-year farm average so far. Our first wheats have been running extremely well with a range between 12.8t/ha to 11.6t/ha and our second wheats had a range of 11.5t/ha to 8.4t/ha with an average of 10.2t/ha. A pleasing result, but again this increase in the yield has been due to the sunshine and weather we got throughout the year. This kind weather system has failed at the last hurdle like some of my take-all-ridden second wheats.

Damp, chewy straw has left an expensive fuel bill for the combine. Wheats have never had the dry, fit feeling all year. Our will to keep the plants green with SDHI fungicides and extensive macro and micro nutrients programmes have created huge biomass crops that have taken an age to die and dry out, again lacking that blazing August sunshine to crisp them off. It has lead to a stop-start season made worse by heavy morning dews and light showers, creating this chewy straw that then doesn’t spread and chop well. It makes me wonder and worry what the slugs might do as we move to a strip-till and direct drilling system this autumn.

I spoke to members of the Stowmarket Monitor Farm Group to see how everyone else was fairing. Harvest is a funny time of the year; always watching over the hedge but never really catching up. I was pleased to hear that we were all in the same boat and I had not been dragging my heels. One neighbour was struggling with the straw and had a similar proportion left to do. My other neighbour had his combine break down and not move for four days. He was now up and running with the manufacturer’s demo machine as well as his, to allow him to catch up. They still had a large chunk to do. A few others had all but finished, with the beans being the crop standing waiting for the next available dry spell. Many were cultivating and ploughing to make up time, something that I was getting itchy feet with, as my new drills were delayed in the build process and should be here first week of September. I have a fear that September will be a busy month: last of the combining, cover crop drilling, wheat drilling and spraying. Hopefully that sunshine will return to give us a positive finish to 2015 and good start to our new establishment era!

Twitter and the #harvest15 has been an interest follow this year; many farmers all over the country venting frustrations about the weather and bragging about yields. It shows how variable the UK climate is and how variable the farming industry is across our green and pleasant land. All I can do now is use up my 3G (when I get it) limit checking the weather and hope that the sun in September shines bright and the wheat price decides to climb rather than stagnate like the puddles in my fields left by a wet and woeful August.



Brian and his cousin Patrick run E.J. Barker & Sons, a family farm partnership and contracting business in Suffolk dating back to 1957. The 667ha arable farm business is farmed on 12 - and nine-year rotations, incorporating winter wheat for feed, spring barley, herbage grass seed, oilseed rape and a break crop of beans, linseed or peas. Environmental consideration is crucial to the running of the business, and remains a key factor in all decision-making on farm.