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Dry crops aren’t always a good thing, says fifth generation farmer James Cossins, as he explains late night combine harvesting and reducing fire risk

Combining harvesting at Rawston Farm in the early 1970s

some dry and warm weather to start our cereal and oilseed harvest off. Little did I know what was coming! Yet again we have broken temperature records in this country with some exceptional heat during July, and taken together with no appreciable rainfall, conditions have been challenging for all farmers and growers.

Dry crops
We managed to start harvesting about ten days earlier than normal with our winter malting barley crop. The moisture of the grain should be below 15 per cent in order for it to be stored safely, and our crop was coming in at between 11 and 12 per cent so no drying needed. Instead we will have to blow cool air through it when temperatures drop.
We have had a similar issue with our oilseed crop which needs to be between six and nine per cent moisture in order for the crop to be sold without any deductions. During the extreme heat, our crop was coming in below six per cent, so we had to stop harvesting and continue early in the morning or at night. If the crop is too dry the oil cannot be extracted – this is why during a hot spell you might see combine harvesters working late at night, when the temperatures are lower. The alternative is the risk that if the crop is left unharvested and a thunderstorm arrives, the oilseed pods will expand with the rain on them and the tiny seeds will drop out – resulting in the loss of the entire crop.
The yields, certainly of the barley, have been encouraging considering the dry spring and summer. Early indications from grain sample results are that it has met the malting standards and we will be able to fulfill our contract with Molston Coors for beer production. We hope now to start our wheat crop harvesting; again ten days early in ripening.

Too hot for cows
Our cattle have not enjoyed the heat so much. Many of the grazing fields do have tree shelters for the cattle to get under, but with the milking cows we rotate around paddocks and not all of them have shade. During the very hot days we decided to simply put the cows in the shaded paddocks and give them extra feed in the form of baled silage to keep them happy. I know some farmers bring their cows inside during the heat – great if the buildings are suitable with high roofs and fans to keep them cool. Unfortunately ours are not really suitable for summer housing. If, as climate change experts predict, we continue to get very hot periods more frequently, we may have to adapt our buildings.

A fire started while mowing a clover key

Fire, fire
Obviously, during this hot period the risk of fire has increased, obviously, and we have tried to take precautions. The combines are blown off every day with a compressor to stop the build-up of dust around the engine and other hot parts. We always have a tanker of water in place, and also a cultivator on a tractor ready and waiting in case of fire. Luckily we are only three miles from Blandford fire station if there should be an emergency.
The local fire crews visit the farm as part of their training, in order to identify the risks and hazards on farms. I would just like to thank the fire service for the support they give the farming community.
I am sure the weather will balance itself out sometime – we now need the rain for our grass to grow again. Like most people’s lawns, they are all brown!

sponsored by Trethowans – Law as it should be

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