Off we go.

As harvest 2020 slips into the mists of time, we can put all our disappointments behind us and start a new year in the farming calendar. Surely nothing can be as bad as the last 12 months in terms of the weather? It seems many farmers think it will and have been planting next year’s crops earlier than usual. I have never quite understood why some in our industry base their decisions on what happened to the previous crop rather than, let’s say, a five year average. Just because it rained solidly for 5 months last winter it doesn’t mean it will do the same this year. At least that’s what I am hoping for. If it does, then I have made a serious error of judgement! We have sown our winter linseed as usual in the third week of September. Any earlier and we end up applying more chemicals to slow down plant growth, control a larger weed burden and deal with disease encouraged by a thick crop. Exactly the same will happen with all these early sown cereals that are currently emerging in freshly planted fields. I bet the chemical companies are rubbing their hands together in glee. September sown cereals on our farm would very quickly succumb to blackgrass, as the weed does not germinate until October. So for us, it is much better to kill it before we sow the next crop. Aphids are another problem from early establishment. Since the ban of the neonicotinoid seed dressing, aphids which are the vector of barley yellow dwarf virus in wheat and barley, have become much more difficult to control. The only method of control now is to spray a broad spectrum insecticide onto the crop. This will also kill the beneficial insects that help us by feeding on the damaging pests like aphids. The earlier you sow your crops, the more applications you need to make. Frequent exposure to the insecticide leads to resistance to the chemical in the aphid population. I give it a couple of years before there is total resistance, so I want to keep my population of beneficial insects intact that I have encouraged by not using insecticide sprays. One way of doing this is to sow my crop later to avoid the main invasion of the pest in October. The virus that they carry can cut yields by as much as 50%. There are consequences in everything we do: by banning the seed dressing, which may or may not interfere with bees’ navigation systems, we have inadvertently created a new problem. Meanwhile, wheat and barley produced outside the EU is still sprayed with these neonics, which we are then importing into the UK. This is yet another example of us exporting our environmental footprint to the rest of the world. So while Boris Johnson tells the UN leaders that the UK will protect 30% of the country for the recovery of nature by 2030, farmers who are part of the solution to this are left in the dark as to what their role will be, whilst the Environment Bill and Agricultural Bill wallow in Parliamentary inaction. We leave the EU in 3 months time and we are planting crops now to feed us next year. The European support system for food and the environment continues across the water and we are supposed to do do what?

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