A surprisingly good harvest in the end, but it heralds a difficult winter, fears Tarrant Valley farmer James Cossins
This year’s harvest of cereals, oilseeds and beans was completed in record time, finishing just a month after starting when it normally takes two. Yields were surprisingly good, especially for the wheat, when you consider how little rainfall we had during the growing season. Obviously the record amount of sunshine made the difference. Our biggest fear towards the end of harvest was the risk of fire in the fields we were working in.
The combines were meticulously cleaned off each morning – any build up of dust around the engine could start a fire. There were several days when fires could be seen all around by mid-afternoon. On one occasion I thought Blandford Camp was on fire, but in fact it was a stubble fire near Pimperne.
We completed harvest without a major incident, although we had a roadside verge fire near Ashley Wood Golf Course which burned a small amount of stubble; the cause is not known, but probably a cigarette from a passing car.
No forage crops
The cattle side of the farm has been far more challenging – milk production has suffered a little in the heat and dryness.
With little or no grass growth over the last few months and very little rain to speak of, we have had to supplement the cattle’s feed, initially using baled silage and hay from last year or barley straw to keep them satisfied.
We are just beginning to feed some of this year’s silage to the herd. We will have to monitor the feed stocks carefully to make sure the milking herd doesn’t run short of the best silage.
We also rely on forage crops such as turnips to outwinter some cattle. These crops have been sown for about a month now, but there’s little sign of germination. They may have to be redrilled – or maybe we just wait for rain. Whatever happens, it is going to be a challenging winter for our stock. One option may be to sell some, now that we are TB free, before our next test in November.
Being sucked dry
Prices of energy are back making the headlines. With fertiliser prices closely related to the energy price we have managed to secure some of next year’s fertiliser, which has already been delivered. More will be needed but who knows what price it will be, or if it will even be available?
One of only two fertiliser plants in the UK has shut and we may be more reliant on imports, which is never good news.
The river Tarrant which flows through the farm is now completely dry. The last time this happened was in 1976, when most of the fish were removed before it dried up entirely. I do wonder about the effect on our local area of the water extraction from the bore holes at Shapwick, Sturminster Marshall, Black Lane near Blandford and at Stubhampton at the head of the Tarrant. Many millions of litres of water are being removed every day, not only supplying the local area but also being pumped further afield. I will monitor closely when the Tarrant decides to flow again. It rather feels at the moment like we are being sucked dry.
On a positive note it was great to spend a day at the excellently-organised Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show. Judging by the car parks, it must have had near-record attendance.
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