I always wanted to be a farmer. Prior to going to Harper Adams University all students from a non-farming background were required to spend a year working on a farm. I started with Mr Inett in June 1976, on a week’s trial, when they were just embarking on picking early potatoes. I got the job by the way and I am still in contact with them now some 46 years later, despite the farm being in Shropshire. The reason I mention this is because 1976 has been compared to the summer of 2022. I can absolutely confirm it was hot and dry then. I stacked 1000’s of small bales of straw by hand, firstly in the field then onto trailers and finally into barns. A fleet of what now seems like tiny combines and tractors cut and ferried the grain back into the farm yard. However, I have to say that including 1976 I have never experienced a harvest like the one we have just had.
We began early on July 11th. Not the earliest I have ever started, but nice to get off to a good start. I am still pinching myself because I can’t quite believe that we finished combining everything by August 8th. It was one of the easiest harvests I have ever had. The combine ran for only seventeen days, during which time we harvested just under 3500 tonnes of barley, wheat, oats and oilseed rape. There were no stoppages for unripe crops, rain or major breakdowns. A lack of early morning dew allowed a prompt start to be made each day, which meant no really late nights. Harvest is usually a gruelling period of long days, late nights and periods of high stress when it all seems to go wrong. I have even managed a few days away this August, something I haven’t done since I was at school.
We farm some very variable soils here in South Oxfordshire. One of our fields has sixteen different soil types, which over 40 hectares (100 acres in old money) including repeats, gives us 27 changes in just one field. They range from gravel through to clay. Along with the weather, the variability of the soils here is our biggest challenge to profitable crop production. Crops on gravel need regular top ups of rain to fill their potential, whereas clay soils are able to hold more moisture and so the crops can survive for longer with less rainfall. So it wasn’t a good year for the gravel areas, but yields of grain on the stronger soils have held up well. Crops sown in the spring have been a mixed bag, as according to my records there has been below average rainfall since the end of the winter. We desperately need steady rain now so that we can start work on sowing crops for next year’s harvest as we seem to have completely missed the heavy rain that caused such havoc in other areas with flash flooding. It might come as a surprise, but August can be one of the wettest months of the year, as thunder storms often produce huge amounts of rain in a short period of time.
We still have the forage maize to gather in during September but we use a contractor for this as it requires specialist machinery. Maize is a semi tropical plant by origin and needs sunlight and regular amounts of rain. It has certainly had the former but not much of the latter this year. The tallest plants are over 3 metres high, the drought struck ones only half a metre. Many livestock farmers have already started to use their winter feed supplies.
Don’t forget Henley Show on Saturday 10th September for all things Countryside and Farming related. With harvest over we will all be there this year.
For those of you who use Instagram I regularly post about the farm. Same tag as my blog.