It was one of the earliest starts to harvest for a long time, although it was always on the cards as the crops have been about ten days ahead all year. We began with winter barley on the 11th July. The oilseed rape has also been harvested and safely tucked away in the shed. At this point it might be helpful to explain the difference between some of the names we use for what appears to be the same crop. We use winter and spring in front of the crop type to differentiate the time of sowing. Winter crops are actually established in the autumn, usually in late September through to mid October, but they emerge and grow slowly during the winter months. They require a period of cold weather to vernalise, that is a process that kick starts the plants to produce seeds. They are also resistant to the colder, winter weather and frosts. Spring cereals on the other hand are normally planted in February and March. These do not require a period of vernalisation and are not so tolerant of cold weather. They have a much shorter growing season and generally yield less grain than the winter crops.
I no longer use the term “in a normal year” because the variation in the weather patterns does not seem to fit in with how I would describe the seasons. Mild, wet winters and cold dry springs are not my idea of normal. The number of named storms seems to increase every autumn and winter. We even had three in a row earlier this year. Then there is a lack of rain during our peak growing season, the spring. This year it seems to have carried on into July, culminating in two days of record-breaking temperatures. If you are a climate change sceptic, now might be the time to reassess your opinions. As farmers, we have already recognised the change in weather patterns. Our whole life revolves around the weather, we are out in it every day, it influences what we can and can’t do and completely dictates the final outcome of the crops we produce. Future agricultural policy must address the issue of climate change and a sustainable way of feeding the world, whilst enhancing and protecting the environment.
One of our worst fears at harvest time is fire. We go out of our way to try and keep our machinery well maintained and remove dust and chaff build up around hot metal parts. In case we fail in our endeavours, there is a backup plan for when it is very dry and the risk of field fires is high: We keep a water bowser full and ready to go along with a cultivator on a tractor to create fire breaks if needed. I always hope we don’t have to use them, but a few years ago, in similar conditions, we rushed to assist a neighbour and as a result saved a pub and several houses. This year we have already had an arson attack on one of our stubble fields. Thanks to a local farmer collecting some bales from the field and some vigilant youngsters, the fire brigade was called, our tractor and cultivator sent out and so averted what would have been a very serious fire. I am staggered that someone could be so stupid as to deliberately start a fire in a field. I grew up when stubble burning was legal and have seen that when the fire takes hold it moves at a frightening speed, far faster than you could run. Whilst it is so dry, please no garden fires or disposable barbeques anywhere near a stubble field or an area of dry grass. The same is true of Chinese lanterns which are also responsible for fires. Enjoy your summer, harvest still has another month to run so I will spend mine in a tractor cab, but at least it is cool.