A difficult harvest

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Farmer James Cossins reflects on a challenging harvest season, battling constant rain, drying crops and managing farm inspections – and fire

Harvesting looked a little different in the 1960s at Rawston Farm

Thank goodness we managed to complete our harvest in the sunshine in early September – the end of one of the most difficult harvests I can remember. We were so spoiled by last year’s harvest, when the dry heat meant no drying of stored crops was needed and the only worry was preventing fires in fields and on machinery.
This year has been completely the opposite, with barely two dry days put together.
We started in July with our winter barley crop in reasonable condition and reasonable yields. Then we moved on to our oilseeds, where we had quite variable yields and most of them needed drying. Harvesting wet crops isn’t ideal, but if we had left them any longer, all the tiny seeds would have been on the ground after the strong winds and heavy rain we experienced.
We then started cutting our spring malting barley, hopefully destined for the brewing market. Once again, harvesting in poor conditions, we had to dry the crop in the barns.
One of the key specifications of growing malting barley is the percentage of the seeds that will germinate. Ideally you want 98 per cent germination, but quite often the maltster will accept 96 per cent.
If the barley is left out in the field for too long with constant rain showers, the amount of moisture present the seeds decide it is time to germinate, and you will lose your malting premium (which this year could be as much as £70 per ton over the feed barley price).
So we decided to cut our barley and dry it in the store. So far, the barley has passed the required tests, but not much has left the farm yet.
The wheat crop, which is mainly grown for feeding livestock, also had to be dried. With the standing crop getting closer to the ground with every storm, combine harvesting was a big challenge for both the operator and the combine.
We finished harvest with our beans in early September, and by this time the sun had decided to come out with some warmth so no drying was needed. In the end we had an average harvest on yields, but an expensive one in the process.
During the busy harvest period we also had to fit in a 60 day TB test – with again a disappointing result of two reactors in the milking cows, with the abattoir results not showing TB lesions. So we have go through the same process in another 60 days, hoping to go clear next time.
We have had to sell some beef cattle to an isolation unit for fattening as we were becoming overstocked again, and with calving having started in August, we needed some space for our calves. Some of these beef animals were sold at a discount to the TB-free cattle price but we had very little choice.

An arsonist targeted the last load of straw of the year at Rawston Farm

Inspections
At Rawston Farm we have also had a number of audits from Red Tractor, Food Standards Agency, Arla and the Rural Payments Agency. They all came at weekly intervals, fortunately, as they can be very time-consuming!
I always hope that shoppers appreciate what British farmers go through to make sure that their food is produced to the highest standards, especially when it comes to animal welfare. As consumers, everyone should be looking for the Red Tractor logo so that they can be assured the food they buy is produced to a high standard.
I’m quite sure that many imported foods do not go through such rigorous examination.

Fire at Rawston
Sadly our last load of straw for this year didn’t quite make it to the barn, as you can see from the photo below. It was targeted by an arsonist – but at least it was only one load, and no one was hurt.
With this year’s barely in the barn we have already started sowing next year’s harvest – grass seeds, oil seeds and some barley are now in the ground and the cycle is starting over again.

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