Harvest 2020 is now completed, thank goodness!
In our 45 years of farming this ranks as one of the most difficult, rain at the end of 2019 when we should have been planting, rain again in early 2020 which held up any chance of redressing the balance and problems drying waterlogged land to eventually get a semblance of spring barley and beans planted at the end of March! All our produce is now at our central storage facility near Stonehenge. A highly efficient operation where grain and beans are dried, cleaned, and blended to improve quality and stored for selling on a cooperative basis by a professional marketing team.
Analysis of our yields showed an output shortfall of between 15 – 47% depending on the crop, with an overall downturn of 27% on normal average expectations! This relates closely to what has been happening on farms throughout the country.
Let’s forget that year and move on! Planting plans for the 2021 harvest are reasonably straightforward as we have most of our autumn sown seed varieties still in stock as very little was planted last year! For this next growing season we will prioritise early planting (weather permitting) to ensure we stay ahead of the game!
On the sheep front, grass for grazing was a scarce commodity until a few weeks ago. Our fields looked like the Sahara Desert but have responded brilliantly since the recent rains. Currently the sheep are grazing a catch crop that was planted immediately after winter barley harvesting in July, and has grown well. The catch crop is useful in that it utilises much of the surplus nitrogen left over from the previous cropping, provides a useful fodder reserve and also organic matter for the following wheat crop which will be planted much later in the year.
Our latest farming scheme is to start a small pedigree flock of Llanwenog sheep! This is a physically smaller animal to our robust commercial ewes and will be easier to manage in our dotage! It is also a breed that is classified as ‘at risk’ which makes our involvement more interesting. We may be looking for volunteers to halter train sheep which will be an interesting alternative exercise for some of our friends!
We took the best possible advice when researching the project and now have base stock from one of the top breeders within the flock society. This required a journey to west Wales complete with trailer. A very long haul, which went exceptionally well until about 40 miles from home on the M4 motorway. The smoke plume behind my vehicle was not someone following far too closely – a punctured tyre on the trailer was starting to combust in a big way! Fortunately, we were lucky having a tandem axle trailer, a spare wheel and all the gear. Changing a hot wheel with traffic whizzing past at 70+ mph was not much fun, but we managed!
The new sheep and our other flock now have a vasectomised (Teazer) ram running with them, which is a natural way of synchronising the breeding cycle ready for proper boys to get stuck into their job, in a few weeks time!
Our workshops are all full with most of the commercial units reporting good order books into next year. We have been very lucky having a mix of tenants who have shown huge resilience during the Covid crisis, together with the advantage of spreading economic risk from a purely business standpoint.
In the meantime, the schools are now back and grandchildren have been catching the usual colds associated with this time of year – we keep well away! At present the farm is reasonably up together in terms of work and long may that continue! Socially, we have continued our weekly ‘Zoom’ drinks sessions with friends to keep on top of things and our hand in! Farming and food production will continue even if we get another short-term lock-down and we look forward to a few days away – just in case!