Henley Standard July 2nd 2021
The culmination of nearly a year’s work is almost upon us here on the farm. Time to dust off the jolly green giant and let it strut its stuff. Probably better recognised as a combine harvester, our John Deere badged machine, in its green livery and weighing in at over 20 tonnes will be coming to a field near you soon. Apart from the maize that we grow as fodder for a local beef farmer, all 700 plus hectares of our crops are harvested with the combine. The header, which is 9 metres wide and transported between fields on a purpose built trailer, cuts the crop at about 150mm above the ground. It then feeds it into the body of the combine where the grain is separated from the stems, then called straw. If you took an ear of wheat and rubbed it between your hands the grain would become loose. You would then be left with a length of straw and a handful of grain mixed up with chaff. This then needs cleaning and the lengths of straw separating so it can either be baled to use for animal bedding or chopped up to incorporate back into the soil, to eventually rot down and form organic matter. The basic principle of how a modern combine works is not that different from the old threshing machines. A rotating drum spinning in close proximity to a static grill rubs the grain from the head and separates it from the straw. The chaff and grain pass over a series of cleaning sieves with air blowing across them. The clean grain then goes into a holding tank and the chaff is blown out the back. The straw goes through a separation process to shake out any loose grain and is then either chopped or laid on the ground in rows for the baler to pick up. The grain is transported back to the farm with tractors and trailers to be stored until sold.
In a good year we hope to harvest over 3000 tonnes of grain from our fields in a six week period starting around the middle of July. Each trailer leaving the field carries about 15 tonnes of grain and if all is going well the combine should cut and process about 40 tonnes an hour. The problem with farming is that it’s never that straight forward and we need the crop to be dry and to minimise breakdowns to keep our work rates up. We hope to combine on average for about 12 hours a day, 7 days a week as there is only a very short window before the grain starts to deteriorate, particularly if the weather is unsettled. We do appreciate that slow moving vehicles and the dust from the harvester can be viewed as a nuisance. Please bear with us, as with our modern machinery we are soon moving on, despite the fact that there are only three of us working on this farm even at harvest.
So what are we producing and how might it end up on your tables? Our single biggest crop is wheat. In our case we are growing varieties that will be milled into flour and used to make bread. Other varieties grown in the UK will go for biscuit and cake making, fillers in all types of processed food, industrial use such as bio fuels and the production of starch and some will be used to feed animals. We also grow barley, some of which is sent to be malted and then used to make beer or distilled into whisky, the rest for animal feed. We grow oats that are turned into porridge and cakes such as flapjacks. A new developing market for oats is that of a milk substitute. Finally, the linseed which is harvested for its seed, has a number of markets from pet food to seeded bread and as oil used in paints and wood treatment.
So, if you see us out and about try and give us a wave. Please be patient whilst we manoeuvre pass you on the road and think of the long hours we put in to provide you with your morning breakfast and much more of the food on your table.