From red tape to red flags?

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Fifth generation farmer James Cossins ponders the annual when-to-sow gamble, a new herbal ley experiment and the dying art of ploughing.

Ploughing at Rawston in the 1960s
Image: James Cossins

As we move into October our thoughts turn to the autumn work programme on the farm. The new grassland seeds have been sown, replacing some of the temporary grass fields which have had a particularly tough summer of heat and drought. We hope by planting new seeds, the fields will be much more productive than they were with the old grass.
We have also undertaken a trial in one field where part has been sown with ryegrasses and part with a herbal ley containing at least ten different species. We are told that the herbal ley will be as productive as a more conventional grass ley over the period of the growing season, without the need for additional expensive fertiliser. It is also supposed to be more productive in drought conditions.
Our aim is to cut the field for silage and then use it for cattle grazing. I know organic farmers have been growing herbal leys for many years but it will be interesting to compare the two on our own farming system.

Winter cereal dance
We will start sowing our winter cereal crops of wheat and barley this month – while trying to get the timing right. Sowing too early can lead to crops becoming too lush and then susceptible to fungal diseases and insect attacks. But sow too late and the weather turns against us, the ground becoming too wet with potentially poor yields next summer. We aim to get them in by the end of October.

Happy cows
The milking cows have been enjoying their winter feed. Many of them have calved in the last two months. They are a lot happier going out to grass now there is actually something green to eat! Their calves are doing well in our new calf unit, where they are fed by a milk machine allowing them to have up to six feeds a day. Once settled into the system, they seem very content.

Lost skills vs carbon capture
I attended the recent Blandford Young Farmers Ploughing match. It was great to see so many older tractors, with their two and three-furrow ploughs, competing. They were all ploughing with great skill – but it is a skill that may soon be lost. We are all trying to reduce the cost of establishing crops and if we can reduce the amount of soil we move, it should save on the fuel we use. There are many different cultivators on the market, all trying to achieve the best seedbed. There are also seed drills that will sow straight into the soils without disturbing it at all. We are being told that this method is the best for the environment as the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere is minimised.

Red tape worries
On the political front we now have a new Prime Minister and Environment Minister. Both, I believe, were involved with the recent trade deals with overseas countries. It has been much-publicised that this government wants to reduce the amount of red tape that farmers have to deal with. I certainly support this in principle; complying with all the rules and regulations is definitely challenging. What I hope it doesn’t lead to is the lowering of food standards, so that imported foods – produced to lower standards than ours, using methods and inputs that are no longer permitted in this country – replace our UK produce.
I think it will be a case of watch this space to see what happens.

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