Farming Matters Henley Standard October column.

Henley and District Agricultural Association’s ploughing match 2021

We finally finished harvest on 3rd September, so just as you were reading my last piece about harvest and combines. It has been a pretty tedious affair this year, with some crops managing an average yield and others, notably the linseed, being a disaster. The almost constant dull and sometimes damp weather during August meant crops were slow to ripen and almost impossible to harvest at the optimum moisture content. We do have the ability to dry grain as it comes into store, which this year was a blessing. Well at least up until the point when the dryer caught fire! With 6 fire appliances in attendance and some lateral thinking from the farm team we were able to save most of the crop that was in the drier. However, it looks as though our aging dryer is going to need to be replaced. Generally, I think most farmers this year are well and truly fed up with harvest 2021 and are glad to see the back of it.

So on to the next cycle of cropping. We already have a crop of oilseed rape that was sown in mid-August and so far, looks to have established well. A very long way to go yet to harvest 2022 but farmers are nothing if not optimistic. We are currently busy preparing seedbeds for the autumn sown crops, namely barley and wheat. We haven’t ploughed any ground now for nearly 20 years and operate a system referred to as minimal tillage. Whilst ploughing does bury all the remains of the previous crop and any weed seeds left on the surface, it does have negative repercussions. Ploughing damages, the delicate ecosystem in our soils, kills earthworms and allows carbon and other volatile elements to escape into the atmosphere. We like to encourage the worms so that as they live, eat and move through the soil profile they both cultivate and fertilise our soils. Apparently, there is a new buzz word ‘Regenerative’ agriculture. I much prefer to describe it as what good farmers have been doing for years. However, we are always learning and I go out of my way to look at new techniques and find better ways of doing things. We now mostly only cultivate the top 50mm of soil and in some situations, we sow the crop directly into the stubble of the previous crop. If we find that the soil has become compacted then we will carry out deeper cultivations to rectify a problem. The plough can still have a place in certain circumstances as a reset for a particularly bad weed problem.

Good ploughing is a great skill and at this time of year we have traditionally had ploughing matches both locally and nationally. There is even a World Ploughing Match. Contestants are judged on the straightness of their furrows, how level they leave the soil and whether they have buried all that was on the surface. Not that many years ago, all the local farms would have turned up with their ploughs to pit their skills against neighbouring tractor drivers in an effort to claim the coveted trophies. With the demise of commercial ploughing, this has now become more of a hobby but is still eagerly contested. Increasingly it is carried out with a great collection of vintage machinery working alongside a few modern machines and the highly skilled match ploughmen. Usually there are other attractions as well, such as horse ploughing and country pursuits along with craft stalls and refreshments.

This year the Henley and District Agricultural Association ploughing match returns to our farm on October 3rd at Frizers Farm, Sonning Eye. It’s been a miserable couple of years for all of us and having got off to a great start to the rural social scene with the Farm and Country Show earlier this month, it’s nice to be getting back to something near normal.

3 thoughts on “Farming Matters Henley Standard October column.

  1. We are now into second year of strip till. Still learning, obviously, but first harvest was very pleasing and still have no reason to doubt our decision to change from non inversion/plough system. Though last autumn was a bit nerve wracking, waiting for emergence. Notable differences are much less fuel used, has to be a plus at almost 70ppl. Much less labour needed and fewer machines.Now going to go down to one tractor, replace SP sprayer. The one downside so far is that geese can’t tell the difference between a bare stubble and strip tilled wheat, so keep having to move them on!

  2. It has worked well for us, sounds like you are on the right track. Good luck we all have an interesting future ahead of us!

  3. A lovely read. Resilience is the word that springs to mind for you farmers and the wildlife in these crazy turbulent, and changing climates. Often if you’re struggling to grow or yield anything half-decent, so too is the wildlife on-farm. Being kinder to the soil as you are, (for 20 years, wow), you’ll be far better off than those NOT on that regenerative journey, I’d say. Reference, ploughing matches, this town-based fella remembers visiting one at Ilsley a couple of years back, and I’d recommend others to go and have a look at what might soon be a dying art.

    Best wishes

    Tony Powell and naturestimeline

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