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“IN THE FIELDS …”: SEASONAL ARTICLES BY SEUMAS FOSTER, AGRONOMIST

Published in the December 2017 edition

Will it Snow This Year?

I do hope so. it’s time we had a good spell of snow to cover the ground and despite the disruption it might cause the change of routine will do us good! While some will curse the consequences, I will be pleased to have the protection of a white blanket for the fields, knowing the thaw will come and when it does the slow release of moisture is the best way to replenish the soil water table ready for growth in the spring. Heavy rain is often too much too quick and that is when there could be a problem of run-off, flooding and erosion. Some sharp frosts are always welcome, frosty mornings are times when you can get the best of both worlds, maybe stay snug inside or be outside in clear air, wrapped up warm and walking on hard mud!

The Crops

Sowing has finished until the spring when spring barley will go in and there may be a bit of tidying up if there are patches, maybe whole fields, that need to be re sown because of some pest or disease disaster, fortunately this is very unlikely. The autumn establishment has generally been good.

Office Time – European Claims and The Basic Payment Scheme(BPS)

January the 1st is the start of the 2018 BPS year, so by that date claimants will have to have got all the requirements and conditions in place although the forms don’t need to be sent off until April. The rules have been modified again this year so plans are being adapted to cope.

Will ‘Brexit’ simplify the situation? It seems unlikely, it is too good an opportunity to further complicate the process!

Glyphosate and Neonicotinoids: ‘Dose makes the Poison’

This subject is very topical at the moment. There are many natural substances that are more toxic than Glyphosate, for example Baking Soda, Caffeine, Table salt, and vitamin D which is as toxic as cyanide! There has been a series of votes in the EU to get Glyphosate banned and the latest was close as 14 countries voted to keep it, 9 said no, and incredibly 5 abstained. It seems the science is being ignored in favour of politics. Neonics insecticides are another case of chemicals being demonised without taking the science or unintended consequences into account.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours as we all look forward to 2018.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the November 2017 edition

Short Days

By the time you see this the clocks will have been wound back an hour and as the autumnal equinox has passed there will be more darkness than daylight over the twenty four hour diurnal cycle. Daily temperatures are dropping as the Autumn gives way to Winter. The worst thing to me about the second half of autumn are the gales that come in November ripping leaves off, maybe still attached to branches if the winds are fierce.

Soil Ribbons

Autumn sowing so far this autumn has been a “catch it as you can” event because the seedbeds have been variable, and lack of sun has meant that soils have not dried out after the mist and rain. So often a field has cultivated up in reasonable condition but before the drill can get there a damp morning has left the surface too sticky for machinery. When it is going well there is a mesmeric calmness seeing a fresh brown soil strip unwinding like a ribbon behind the tractor and cultivator.

The earlier sown winter barley and wheat has got away very well, nice green fields with a good plant population. Later or delayed sowing is gaining favour as one of a number of a cultural methods of reducing the weed burden in some fields, as generally if you sow early then you always get blackgrass, which is a very common pernicious weed to deal with. The risk is that sowing weather also disappears with the day length, as does some of the yield potential.

Plant diseases

This autumn has been a favourable season for some plant diseases. The fungal disease ‘Phoma’ in Oil Seed Rape (see right) is appearing early, encouraged by the damp conditions. The leaf lesions appear first and the fungus then spreads through the plant and settles in the stem, leading eventually to a ‘canker’.

Next year this canker can destroy the stem, at worst killing the plant and at least reducing yield potential. Earlier measures this autumn seem to be in order to keep this disease under control.

Deer and Pheasants

I have recently seen a Muntjac deer crossing the road up by the dairy buildings, head down scuttling rapidly from one side to another into the shelter of the trees. It seems lots of other people have seen these deer, some regularly spotting them in or near the gardens and local fields. Some people have also commented on the strange barking noise they make.

The ubiquitous pheasant also seems to feature in every  garden in the villages, attracted usually by the leftovers from bird feeders where they mop up wheat and other seeds flicked out by the feeding tits and finches. The yellow beak of a blackbird is also a very effective implement to scatter seed far and wide. The pheasants (and partridge sometimes) seem to follow a pattern and slink into the garden at the same time each day. They creep carefully into the garden, across the ground using cover and watching for any activity, gauging risk vs food. The click of the back door stops them in their tracks for a look around, and a sudden appearance around the corner of the house has them up in the air and away. Other people tell me they have been able to get them hand feeding tame.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the October 2017 edition

Autumn Tentacles

Harvest finished at the end of August, a few dry days were just enough to get the last fields cut, and the straw baled if it had not been chopped by the combine. The straw has a high locked up fertiliser content and is usually better to be returned to the soil, unless the livestock need it more. Either way, the straw will make its way back to the field, either straight away or as manure after the livestock have used it. Whatever happens, the soil gets back some organic matter.

The Ploughing Match, College Farm Ellisfield 7th October

This year the Basingstoke and District Agricultural Society Ploughing Match will be held at College Farm, Ellisfield. If you have some offspring to entertain and/or you all need some fresh air, then visitors are welcome. Ploughing takes place in the morning, and there will be a wide range of equipment and skills on show. Worth a visit!

Autumn Sowing

Planting the autumn cereals started in the middle of September. Oil seed rape went in at the end of August and is establishing quickly with the residual warmth of summer and the nutrients still available in the soil. October is a very important time, maybe a critical time would be more appropriate, as it is now that the roots, which are the basis of future cropping success, get the start which will determine how much success is achieved.

I have a rule of thumb that up to Christmas is the time when yield is made, after Christmas yield is lost to pests, nutrient shortages, weather etc.

‘Well sown is Half grown’.

Blackberries By the Basket Full

It has been a fantastic year for blackberries this year, at least around here. Quantity and quality have been excellent and despite the rain they have been lasting very well.

The horse chestnut trees seem to also have had a vintage conker year, the first shiny conkers (see right) have fallen. I expect the best of them are yet to come.

The Jubilee Oak tree has a good crop of acorns this year too. I have seen (and heard) jays looking for acorns to stash for the winter around all the woodland edges.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the September 2017 edition

If it was that easy we would all be doing it

As harvest began the sun shone and the first crops cut were quite encouraging, both in terms of yield and quality. But then the weather began to behave rather badly, I recorded just under 8 inches rainfall in July, and that after an extremely hot start to the month. Over half of that rain fell as very heavy bursts. The great thing about rain at this time of the year is that the soil quickly absorbs it and the warm air dries the foliage quickly. It is not until the autumn when the dampness can start to accumulate.

The showers continued into August and have delayed harvest, to the extent of some of the crops, wheat and spring barley in particular, have lost quality and yield. Some of the spring barley has brackled, that is the stems weaken and the ears hang down, drooping lower as they are battered down with each shower or gust of wind, until they either touch the ground or are so low that the combine can’t pick them up, so the heads are lost. The wheat runs the risk of starting to germinate in the standing crop, and if this happens milling wheats in particular are no longer useable for that purpose, and feed wheats are shrivelled and low quality. Malting barley has to germinate to be used for malt production, so the consequences of a delayed harvest is obvious.

Onwards and upwards

The first crop for next year is poised to be planted in August, the new Oilseed rape seed is ready in the barn, and the rain will give the crop a good start in the warm soil, which will be useful to fend off  potential damage  from pests, in particular slugs and Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle (CSFB), now that ‘neo-nic ‘seed dressings are no longer used. Quick, vigorous establishment is the best technique for good  protection now, but not a guarantee of success. I have noticed that there is already a large population of adult CSFB hopping around this summer.

A new crop year is the opportunity to try a new variety or two to use the improvements the breeders have brought to the crop, unfortunately resistance to CSFB is not one they have been able to achieve, not yet anyway!

Also time to get a bit of lime spread on the soils when they get a bit acidic, the chalk soils are fine but some of the darker soils with a good clay content do need regular checking.

Fungi

There has been a good flush of fungi with the warm soil and rain, it is fascinating to think that all year round  the mycelium is growing in the soil, feeding and waiting for the moment of perfect conditions to suddenly throw up the fruiting bodies.       

Spotted Woodpecker and the Hazel nuts

I have a cob nut in my garden that has a very good crop this year, however I also have a spotted woodpecker that has worked out that it likes nuts too. It has already dug out leaf cutter bee nests which had been made in the trunk of an old plum tree to get at the grubs, and has now started to wedge cob nuts into the gaps to hold them tight so it can open them to get at the nut inside. I have watched it flying into the cob nut tree and then back to the plum, I hope there will be a few nuts left for me this autumn.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the July/August 2017 edition

Post Flowering Grain Filling period and the ‘Machine Fest’ that is Harvest

Click to display larger image ...July is the final throw of the dice before harvest. It might be that some crops will be cut during July, winter barley will be first to mature, next will be the winter sown oil seed rape. The crops appear to be ripening quickly and, depending on the weather, might be ready earlier than the average. However there will create a gap in the harvest schedule which will test patience. If the weather is good for harvest then extreme strength of will is needed to avoid rushing in before the crop is ready.

At the moment I guess the winter crops should perform well, the ear count is a bit low after being thinned out by the prolonged dry spell in April and May but the compensation will come from grain size if this favourable weather continues. The memory of 2012 harvest when we had a very dull overcast summer, causing poor grain fill, is still fresh.

Oil seed rape, or Canola (Colza in French) as the rest of the world calls the crop, is filling very well. The pods are a good length and bulging like arthritic knuckles as the seeds inside expand. The sharp frost at the end of April, -5’c, did kill a few flowers on the raceme in frost pockets, but again the crop will compensate.

Note that last month I was waiting to see if the Orange Wheat Blossom Midge would be a problem, and I am pleased to report it wasn’t. Although conditions of moisture and temperature were heading to favourable, the little beast didn’t appear in sufficient numbers to reach threshold.

We didn’t spray.

Danish Proverb – ‘The Harvest depends more on the year than the field.’

EDITOR: The image above (taken by Seumas) is of “Black Bean Aphid on Spring Beans”. Click on the image to see a (disgusting!) larger version.

Bat Rescue and Toad in a Hole

I was walking past a water trough at dusk and out of the corner of my eye noticed some small ripples on the surface of the water, but there was no wind and no other reason why the water might be disturbed. I quickly found a bat struggling in the water and lifted it out, mopped it with a paper tissue. It was a Pipistrelle, the most common species and after I put it on the trunk of a tree it climbed up and around and soon flew off.

An open manhole (bad), is always a hazard for wildlife and a death sentence if there is no escape route. Earlier while wandering about I found a toad in this situation. I came back with a pond net and fished it out, it then crawled off into long grass and I fixed some small mesh wire over the manhole so this didn’t happen again.

Shows and Trial Plots

This is the time when the opportunity to visit trail plots and shows to catch up on new varieties, machinery and techniques is here. It is a great opportunity to meet colleagues, catch up and exchange information, and maybe get a free pen!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the June 2017 edition

The Day The Drought Broke

Wet weather has been an infrequent visitor for at least 6 weeks, lawn growth slowed right down, and some of the spring sown seeds didn’t have enough moisture to germinate, hence the patchy appearance of parts of a few fields, which I know some of you have spotted. Maize is probably the latest crop to be sown in the spring and is the main beneficiary of the rain now some has arrived.

One problem has been the supply of nutrients for the crops. Growth needs fuel and although nutrients are in the soil, unless they are available to the crop in a form suitable to be taken up in solution, the plant will struggle to cope with a shortage in a dry time.

Early fertilizer spreading applications has helped the crops get away while the nutrients was still readily available.

After rain the best sight is the washed fresh green of young beech leaves and the heads of cow parsley nodding on the roadsides.

Cereal Crops

In June the ears of cereal crops push out from the stems and then flowering takes place. There are no petals or bright colours as there is no need to attract insects to pollinate the crop, which is done by the pollen wafting around in air currents in the crop. The pollen is released from anthers in the wheat ears so it doesn’t have to travel far.

Orange Wheat Blossom Midge

This year we might get a flush of a pest called Orange Wheat Blossom Midge (see right), which needs warm weather and a good rain fall to trigger the pupae to hatch at around the time the ears emerge. We might have these conditions this year.

The midge is a tiny little fly, the abdomen is carrot colour and it has petrol blue wings. It swarms in the evening usually around 7.30-8.00pm but only if the air is warm and there is very little wind. You would be surprised how often the conditions are right for this pest! It will swarm up from the bottom of the crop and lay eggs into the space where the grain will develop later, so this activity has to take place before the crop flowers. The hatched maggot feeds on the developing grain causing shrivelled grains, effectively ruining the grain quality and yield, and the maggot is pretty much invulnerable in the middle of the ears so we need to get early warning of the egg laying adults on the move. If a crop is infested the pupae fall to the ground at harvest and will lie dormant until the next year.

This can be done by using a pheromone trap in the crop at risk, and catching the attracted adults (males) on a very sticky card, and counting over a period of time. The saving feature of this pest is that once the crop flowers it is no longer attractive to it, so the crop is safe from more egg laying.

There is also a variant called a Lemon Blossom Midge but it is not quite so common. The effect on the crop is the same.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the May 2017 edition

Strength in the sun

A bulletin from the ‘Fields’ every month is not really frequent enough at this time of the year, spring moves so rapidly that this really is the ‘blink and you miss it’ time of year.

The sun is strong enough to quickly warm the soil and air by radiation, conduction and convection, important as plant growth is driven by temperature. Dry soil warms quicker, we have not had much rain at all this April.

Looking back at previous years, the all important leaf 3 in the cereal crops (third down from the ear) has emerged a few days earlier, so crop growth is further ahead. A ‘head start’ leads to speculation about when  harvest will ready, will it be early or not?

In typical farmer mode then, the more likely interpretation is that there will be an unforeseen disaster just around the corner, long before we get to a ripe crop!!

Ears Emerging

May is the time when the ears of the cereal crops emerge and grains start to form, after pollination. The Oil Seed Rape crops will have finished flowering, which this year has been quite intense with lovely strong, even yellow racemes (see right). They contrast beautifully with the bluebells.

Foraging

Grass is in overdrive, so the time for silage and haylage making to conserve the excess for next winter feeding won’t be far away. Haylage for those who haven’t heard of it before is a halfway stage between silage and hay, a bit drier than silage, which gets about a day or so wilting before being picked up and put in the silage clamps, and hay which is dry enough to be baled and stored with no further protection. Haylage will have a lower moisture content than silage but needs to be wrapped in airtight cling film wrap so no further deterioration and nutrient loss takes place. Silage is made from the young grass when at a peak of digestibility and energy, haylage from grass that has got a bit older and stalky but still plenty of value, and hay when the dry matter content is probably at a peak, tougher stems maybe but valuable as part of a farm diet.

Cuckoo

I saw and heard my first cuckoo on April 16. It was being mobbed by a small bird. I couldn’t see exactly what species of small bird, but it was very keen to move the cuckoo away. The first swallows flew around me on April 9, a good week earlier than my first sighting last year.

Fledglings will be out and about in May, blackbirds often first although I think robins have been brooding for sometime. The frantic activity to find enough food to satisfy the appetites of the next avian generation is without mercy for predator and prey. Wrens have had a good winter and are very active this spring.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the April 2017 edition (first “In the Fields” article of 2017)

Full Blown Spring

Daffodils, frogs spawn, lambs, memories of the 6 Nations tussle. All these mean that the season of spring is here again, confirmed by the greening of the fields in the countryside. On any day in a year it must be spring somewhere in the world, just now it is our turn for renewal after the winter.

This winter seems to have been the wettest dry winter for a long time. Rainfall totals have been well below average, there is no water in the winterbourne streams (yet), and yet the soil surface is slippery, squelchy and muddy most of the time. March has not (as yet) provided the drying east winds needed to take the moisture out.

Cuckoo Barley

Spring sowing (see picture right of Barley - and weed - seedlings) has been delayed a bit this year, not enough to cause concern, but maybe a few weeks of potential growing time have slipped away. If sowing is delayed into late April or even May, the traditional terminology is to call the crop ‘Cuckoo barley’, the crop should have been sown by the time a cuckoo is calling. The old varieties could not cope with such a short growing period and yields suffered badly. Nowadays, crops might be considered lucky to hear a cuckoo at all now as they become rare visitors.

The winter crops have overwintered very well, last autumn the crop establishment was good even into November. Some of the last planted crops, I’m thinking of winter beans, have done well and look good.

Oil seed rape (see picture left) has not suffered much attention from pigeons and has started extending the stems to carry the seed heads up. The first flowers may have opened before this edition is due, so a few yellow highlights may be already visible.

Down to Close Detail

The cereal crops have had fertilizer, mainly nitrogen and sulphur so far, to feed the early growth and build the side shoots (aka tillers) and the embryonic ears which, if you have a microscope, can be found in the youngest tissue of the plant. Not long to go and the ear will be easily found when the leaves are peeled away and the growth stage of the crop can be accurately determined. This technique is important to judge the safe and optimum time for the inputs to the crop, like fertilizer, sprays, and micronutrients.

Wild Birds - The Territorial Imperative

The hedgerows and gardens are holding a good population of wild birds, large flocks of chaffinch, gold finches, long tailed tits, wrens, robins, blue tits and great tits, and this before the migrants arrive. There is a squabble for territory to get a nest site established, niches are being snapped up so that during April incubation and early fledgling hatches are all on time. After an apparently kind winter like this it will be interesting to see how the wildlife copes with the frantic demands of spring and just who the winners and losers will be.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the December 2016 edition

The Winter Solstice

The Autumnal  Equinox (September 22) when the day and night are the same length has passed, the sun moves into the southern hemisphere and days are getting shorter and nights are getting longer.

This celestial progress of the sun continues south until mid-winter (the Winter Solstice) when we experience the shortest day, due this year on December 21. That is the time when the Earth’s orbit around the sun, combined with the ‘wobble’ of the planet, has the effect for us that the sun moves back towards the Equator. Before long we will reach the Spring Equinox (March 20) when the sun will be over the Equator, day and night are the same length again, and the sun is moving towards the northern hemisphere, so summer is coming!!

It’s encouraging to know that the winter will come and then give way to spring, when ‘hope springs eternal’ for another year, and not just in the human breast.

The subtle changes of day length are a variation picked up by plants and animals alike, causing changes which will help with survival. Birds don’t breed in winter and plants don’t grow, and not until the signs of spring and better conditions are picked up that preparation starts for a new season.

A Mild Dry Autumn

At the time of writing (November 16), this autumn is still quite mild so there might be late activity among the birds and beasts, although some predictions of a hard winter have been made, presumably based on seaweed or berries or some other ‘reliable’ factors. October rainfall was only 37mm, so the soil is still in a soil moisture deficit state.

Ladybirds and Other Animals

Ladybirds (see right) have clustered in large numbers indoors, that’s where I have noticed them, but also in dry shelter outside. Ladybirds seem to have changed from the usual red with black spots to very variable markings.

The crops have emerged well this autumn,  slugs have not been a serious problem although this may change, and should be putting down good roots for the spring.

I have heard of more reports of weasels being seen around, they must have had a good season with plenty to eat.

Seasons Greetings

Time to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the November 2016 edition (Seumas skipped the October edition!)

Seasons

We find ourselves inexorably rolling through summer into autumn, hoping for a long lived high pressure system to hold off the Atlantic lows with their rain burden for long enough to get the autumn sowing finished.

As it happens that seems to be pretty much how the weather pattern has behaved, here in central southern England we have had a good mix of wet and dry, while the eastern counties have been very dry, so dry that early sown oil seed rape crops have not germinated and 6 weeks later are being cultivated up so an alternative break crop can be sown.

Adjusting Plans

In order to combat grass weeds, the start of sowing has been delayed in some places, allowing a bit more time for shed weed seed to germinate so the seedlings can be killed off before the crop is sown. This has been especially helpful when winter barley is sown as there are fewer post-sowing options for grass weed control in this crop. It is however a competitive crop as it grows so can be rather more aggressive against weeds.

The story so far...

So far the crops have established well and should go into winter in good order. The lesson of last year turns on the mild weather we had last winter which gave some pests a longer active window to infest and infect crops. This year it will be prudent to check for pest activity if temperatures stay up again this year.

Payments

The value of last harvest has risen as the £pound has fallen, this does not represent a real increase in value though. The cost of inputs like fuel will also be rising as a reaction to the market, putting some pressure on the budgets for harvest 2017. The exchange rate for the payment to BPS claimants (most farmers) from the EU is fixed at the end of September and this year will be 1 euro = 85 pence. Last year it was  1 euro =73 pence. The payment is made from the EU in euros and is converted to £pounds when paid to recipients. This payment is intended to replace income foregone by farmers and growers in exchange for accepting cross compliance requirements and constraints, such as Greening and EFA (Ecological Focus Areas). The payment arrives any time from the beginning of December, some predictions do not expect the final payments to be made until April next year which can put a lot of pressure on cash flow.

Noisy (in a nice way) visitors

A few late bumble bees have joined the Long Tailed tits flying through the garden and hedgerows.
I have not had Long Tailed tits visiting my feeders regularly before but in the last few months there do seem to be more about flitting around and noisily calling to each other. I always hear them before I see them.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the September 2016 edition (these was no August edition)

Harvest

Harvest time rolls around again, the inevitable and varied conclusion to another cycle of cropping. The event has been long anticipated with continuous speculation about the result, estimates and plans being frequently changed during the run up to the first ripe crop. Machinery is maintained and prepared, knowing the next two months or so will be flat out to get the harvest completed, bales cleared and the next crops sown before  winter comes. Cropping plans are made and seed bought, but mainly the lessons of last year are factored into the actions for next year. Slugs and snails have gone from potentially a serious pest to ‘not quite sure’ now in dry soils, although there are plenty in gardens and fields to take advantage of autumn rain.

During June solar radiation was well down on the annual average, almost as bad as 2012, so there was some speculation about the effect this would have on the harvest. The first crops cut were winter barley and winter oil seed rape, which did not do as well as they have done in previous years. Yield and quality was down, seed was small and although the crops were acceptable they were not record breakers. A cold wet April followed by a dull June is  not  a sequence that is ideal.

The winter wheat and spring barley have done much better, probably not up to the record yields achieved last year, but the quality and yield have been better than might have been. Fortunately the weather has also been kind with good temperatures and dry days at the right time. Just right for school holidays too.

The Ploughing Match

The Basingstoke Agricultural Society Ploughing Match is due to be held in the field along Garlic Lane next to the AD plant at the beginning of October. Watch out for more information.

Worm Counting, aka ‘EARTHWORM WATCH’

Charles Darwin was very impressed by worms, to him civilisation was probably founded on the industry of worms, so the importance of these invertebrates should not be underestimated.

The Natural History Museum are surveying worm populations and are setting up ‘Earthworm Watch’ (see earthwormwatch.org) and want us to get involved in September. Check the web site, it all looks suitably messy but straight forward, and they will supply the simple materials you will need.

The Final Harvest

Land use changes with time, and there is a field on the edge of the parishes which is being developed, so the ultimate harvest is being taken. Not long ago spring barley was the last crop grown there, now it will be streets and houses, and the wheel takes another turn.

The aerial photo (see right), taken by Phil Lyons of Videomachine Ltd (www.videomachine.co.uk), shows how the field - which is at the traffic lights at Kempshott (on the left coming from Junction 5 of the M3) - looks now.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the July 2016 edition

Alternative Energy at Farleigh Wallop

Over the past five years you may have noticed a number of photovoltaic (solar) panels appearing on agricultural buildings around the Estate. Our smallest array is 5.98Kw at Home Farm going up to 149.91Kw at Manor Farm, Farleigh Wallop. An array over 30Kw has to have an export meter that measures the amount of energy that we are putting back onto the National Grid. This is the case for the sites on the grainstores at Hill Farm, Ellisfield and  Manor Farm, Farleigh Wallop and at Grammersham Dairy. With smaller arrays it is assumed that you use 50% of your production yourself and you are paid for the other 50%. The average price that we receive for the energy sold to the power suppliers is around 1/3 of the price per Kwh that we have to pay to purchase our energy. It therefore makes sense for us to use as much of the energy as we can ourselves. This is certainly the case for the solar on the roof of Grammersham Dairy and on the grainstores for drying during the harvest. In addition to this, we receive a grant from the Government called the Feed In Tariff. The earlier installations receive a much higher grant than those installed recently and part of this fall in the FIT reflects that the cost of the installations have fallen over the year. In the past year we produced a total of 220,000kwh of electricity which is sufficient to run approximately 45 homes.

During the summer of 2014 we installed a district heating network around Farleigh House, Coach House offices, Estate Club, two large houses and four cottages and the farm office. At times it looked like a battle ground as the pipes were installed approximately 1 metre deep connecting all the properties by trenching through gardens, under buildings and crossing The Avenue. It is a credit to Donald Cleave, digger driver from Farleigh, that there is little evidence now of where those pipe runs were installed.
The system is heated by two 200Kw wood chip boilers (
see picture right) that heat hot water held in large pressurised hot water tanks. The hot water is pumped around the system into heat exchange units in each property. The existing oil fired boilers and tanks were removed.

Approximately every two months during the winter months and 4 months during the summer we bring in contract chippers who chip 90 metres of softwood timber into 230m3 of wood chip that fills the old Dutch barn at Home Farm.

The wood chip (see picture left) in turn feeds into the boilers via augers. This huge volume of wood chip burns so efficiently that all that is left in the ashcan of the burners each month is a small bucket of ash.

There are piles of wood stacked all around the Estate drying (see picture right). It takes approximately two years for the timber to dry sufficiently, the final stage of its journey is to come to Pigeon House Lane for chipping by which stage it is between 21% - 26% moisture content. The Estate has 1,100 acres of woodland and by Spring 2017 we should be completely self -sufficient with timber from the Estate. This is from natural thinings with some small areas of clear felling and replanting with appropriate species. This is all part of the 20 year plan for the woodland at Farleigh.

Finally, you will have seen the signs and probably heard about the Anaerobic Digester (see picture right) located in the field on the left as you drive down the newly named ‘Garlic Lane’ to Hatch Warren. The plant was built a few years ago on the site of an old dairy. This AD plant takes in up to 45,000t of food waste destined for landfill, captures the methane gas and converts it to electricity via a CHP (combined heat & power) unit. As part of the works a new electricity feed was buried from the site down to a transformer on the edge of Cliddesden. The by-product, called digestate, is a fertiliser and is spread on the arable land on the Estate.
We are not the operators of the plant so do not have in depth details of the facility but believe that at full capacity it produces enough electricity for 1,500 homes.

Greta Iddeson, Estate Manager

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Published in the June 2016 edition

Flaming June?

The sixth month of the year should be summer, July and August might be hotter, nevertheless the foundation of harvest is laid down now with the emergence of the ears of grain, the pods of oil seed rape and beans fill with seeds and potato roots start to swell and become a tuber. Grass is the crop that just keeps on giving, eat it or cut it and it shoots again so there will be a second or third bite to be had.

By June the last of the fertiliser has been applied, some fields this year have been adjusted for rate by considering the yield potential as determined by a series of satellite photos taken through the year which can show the parts of the field with the best growth. If the crop is doing well and needs feeding then using GPS control on the spreader the rate can be changed while the tractor is driving across the field. We will not be wasting nitrogen on those corners and banks where the crop potential will never be good.

By adopting improved control systems on the sprayer there has already been a saving of pesticides, the latest contribution to the environment and carbon reduction, and costs!

Decision Time: June 23rd Referendum Day – and how it affects the fields near you

PAUL TURNER, EDITOR: It’s been pointed out to me that it is now impossible for another resident to offer an alternative viewpoint in Hill & Dale prior to the Referendum on June 23. Therefore, as editor of this website, I’ve decided to respond to a number of points in Seumas’s article.

It is very tempting to want to vote for ‘Brexit’ from the EU. However I can remember the agonising over the decision whether to stay in the EU in 1975, after the UK had joined, together with Denmark and Ireland, in 1973. There were 9 member countries then, there are 28 member countries now.

EDITOR: In 1975 we voted to remain in or leave the European Economic Community (or Common Market), not the European Union. Thus, the decision to be made was entirely economic and, with inflation running at over 20% per annum and with the UK being in industrial strife, I did not hesitate to vote Remain.

Looking beyond the natural human desire to want to be in control, there is a naivety in thinking that we shall be able to do what we want ‘Post Brexit’ and ditch all the onerous rules and regulations that surround us.

EDITOR: Actually, as an independent country, we WILL be able to "do what we want". But, that does not mean that we will blindly "ditch all the onerous rules and regulations that surround us". It just gives us the democratic CHOICE to decide, rule by rule and regulation by regulation.

But remember the pressures of maintaining standards of production, taking into account environmental, welfare, legal and market forces, and the Common Agricultural Policy will not disappear, nor should they. However, EU regulations that give us the strength in numbers will be replaced by competing guidelines, all different and ramped up as each welfare body, environmental lobby or market force across the world tries to demonstrate superiority over its rivals. What a confusing mess to look forward to and it won’t help feed the world.

Agricultural production is a world market and this will not change, so while niche markets will always be available we will be outside the major trader of Europe.

EDITOR: This infers that if we choose to leave the EU then we will lose the ability to trade with EU countries. That is not so. If it was, then surely all the EU countries would also lose the ability to trade with the United Kingdom?

If, after negotiations, we can no longer belong to the EU’s free trade area, then we will probably have Tariffs applied to our exports to the EU. However, WE can then apply the equivalent Tariffs on imports from the EU and, as they (by value) sell a lot more to us than we sell to them, that would hurt them far more than us. It really would make no sense!
However, remember that a Tariff is a tax and that the UK government will therefore see increased revenue as EU imports enter the domestic market.

Better surely to stay within the EU so the UK Government can be more positive in accepting or rejecting the Commission’s edicts from within and be more positive for the benefit of the UK.

EDITOR: Here’s the problem! We CANNOT unilaterally reject "the Commission’s edicts".

What is needed in my view is a strong voice within the EU and some common sense to work with the EU, take control and start to have the strength to support the UK.

EDITOR: It does not matter how strong our voice will be, we are just one nation out of 28 (with more to come). We certainly cannot “take control” of the EU.

Why press the reset button when it is not necessary?

EDITOR: Because it IS necessary and because it’s the best thing to do for the future of this country and for its citizens? If the vote is for Leave, not much will change for a year or so. However, in the meantime, we can work on improving our commercial relationships with all the countries outside of the EU.

Quote of the month

‘Rust and farming never sleep’

Seumas Foster

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Published in the May 2016 edition

Only 100 days to harvest (yes, seriously, only 100 days!)

Just how quickly can time go by? Well, if you have a lot to do then time will fly by!

It comes as a bit of a jolt to realise just how soon the year’s work will be there for the final reckoning, and all the lessons learned can be put into place for the next crop.

From the beginning of May cereal crops are well into stem extension as the ears are moving upwards. This is the time of maximum fertiliser uptake when fresh leaves are emerging one about every ten days, and the last three leaves at the top of the plant before the ear appears will be the main powerhouses to fill the grains.

The spring sown spring barley crops probably grow even quicker than autumn sown crops. Temperature and moisture are important, cold days and frosts at night are a nasty shock to fresh lush shoots and in a damaging case can scorch the leaves and kill tissue. Gardeners will be well aware of the problems a late frost can cause. Very rarely a late frost, just as the ears of the cereal crops are about to emerge in late May, will cause severe distortion and death of the grain sites. A few years ago there was a very early maturing variety called Soissons, no longer grown much, that took a big hit from a hard frost when yields were reduced by at least a third. The early bird didn’t get the worm that time.

Learn from Previous Experience

April and May are the keys to the year.

Mist in May, Heat in June, makes the harvest come right soon.

When a cow tries to scratch its ear, It means a shower is very near, When it thumps its ribs with its tail, Look out for thunder, lightning, hail.

Wildlife

Swallows first appeared in the sky above home on April 13, a bit earlier than previous years, which seems to be the same as reported by the more serious phenologists who carefully study these things. During April, wild birds are laying and incubating eggs, so May is the time when feeding young fledglings is taking up the time of the parents. It is not unusual to find a shell out in the open, it will have been dropped by a parent as it clears the nest after the egg has hatched. If the top of the egg looks fairly cleanly removed it will have been broken by the egg tooth on the beak of the chick chipping around from the inside to make enough room to wriggle out.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the April 2016 edition

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz ...

There has been a slow start for the spring work on the farms, the weather has held up activities with wet soils keeping wheels off fields. The backlog of drilling, spreading, sowing and spraying was beginning to build up, but a few clear days and a dry easterly wind can quickly turn things around.

As the soil surface begins to dry out, air can get into the soil, aerating roots and all the other living organisms that live there. The soil also warms up a lot quicker when it isn’t waterlogged which quickens physiological processes in the crops.

Seed Rates

One adjustment that needs to be made this year is that the spring barley seed rate seems rather high, caused by the fact that last season the spring barley crop produces huge berries so they weigh a lot.

To get the best yield, crops need to be planted at the right density to make best use of the soil while not competing too much with each other. The plant population also has an effect on disease risks, crop standing power, and grain filling, so there is plenty of incentive to get it right at about 375 seeds per square metre. The optimum seed rate can also vary with the soil potential so thicker, deeper soils in a valley can grow better crops than thin soils on valley slopes, the farm can compensate by varying the seed rate.

Raucous or Melodic? … and Firsts

You can tell when spring is in the air because the birds are singing much more loudly in the mornings and evenings.

The sound of rooks building in the tall trees is a typical welcome spring ‘noise’.

As March turns into April the dawn chorus is getting stronger.

March 12 - First bumble bee out of hibernation spotted in my garden foraging the flowers and first Frog spawn appeared in the pond.

Is this a Ziggurat?

The mound spotted last autumn at Farleigh Wallop (and quickly christened ‘The Walnut Whip’) has grown an impressive grass cover and is already looking part of the landscape.

Maybe not quite a ziggurat, which perhaps should be rectangular, but it will certainly be a feature in the landscape in the parish.

One function of a ziggurat originally was as a place of safety when floods inundated the lowlands. Do they know something at Farleigh the rest of us should know?

Seumas Foster

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Published in the March 2016 edition

Patience is a Virtue

After a long run of wet and windy months, there are occasional days when the clouds part and sunshine makes a few shadows, it is then that a feeling creeps in that spring might not forget us after all.

Soggy Fields

The fields are wet (obvious!), so any field work has been out of the question so far this year. If a week of dry weather had been available then some fertiliser might have been spread and maybe a bit of ground might have been cultivated, however that will have to wait for a bit longer.

Crops and Diseases

The crops have been growing slowly all winter. Although we have had plenty of rain, temperatures have been above normal. I cannot remember a year when the crops have been so green right through the winter. Frosts have been rare this year, so the soil temperatures have stayed above average.

The crops of wheat, barley, oil seed rape and oats established well. There is  a bit of water damage where water has briefly ponded but roots can cope with lack of oxygen for about 14 days before becoming damaged. Even after the water has gone there is a recovery by the plant which seems to be a proliferation of surface roots which minimise the downside of the floods.

Plant diseases attacking crops in the autumn usually get clobbered in winter by cold frosts as damaged leaves get killed off. This year the leaves have not been removed and are carrying a burden of Mildew, Septoria and Rust diseases in the cereals, Phoma and Light leaf Spot in the OSR, all lurking in the crops and ready to infect new spring growth. This burden of pathogens is a  high risk to the crops and brings a certain urgency to husbandry decisions for early spring.

Winter and Wildlife

The mild wet conditions will have had an effect on wildlife. Birds seems to have coped well, food has generally been easy to find, except perhaps for some owls who cannot hunt in wet weather. Maybe the big test is still to come as supplies get very short in the ‘Hungry Gap’ of March and April. Field mice seem to be numerous and active.

Insects would usually find a dry crevice and hibernate through winter, stilled by cold weather and surviving until warmed up in spring. This year the insects, upon which the rest of the food chain depends, having woken up and used food reserves, risk starvation before they can forage again next year. Some bumble bees were active in December which I would think is unusual.

Harvest mice have been found in the Selborne area in good numbers, so keep looking in hedges and long grass for the nests. Harvest mice may be more common than we thought.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the February 2016 edition (there was no January edition)

To start 2016 ‘In The Fields’ has persuaded Andrew Ferguson of Dummer Down Farm to outline the changes that have taken place as they have diversified  Dummer Down Farm, and our thanks to Andrew for the following article.

Seumas Foster

From Mixed Farming to People Farming

In 1990 Dummer Down Farm was a busy mixed farm with a dairy herd and arable. Twenty five years later, the farm has moved on.

In 1991 the dairy cows were sold and we ceased milking. We carried on with arable farming in-house. However in 1998, we did our last harvest and now we are now in a contract farming agreement with The Wheatsheaf Farming Company.

New uses for Old Buildings

The farm has a variety of buildings that in the past were used for farming activities. Over the years we have been in the process of converting our buildings into different uses.

The building that housed the dairy is now the Dummer Cricket Centre that in 2015 celebrated twenty years in existence. The business employs some of the best cricket coaches in Hampshire and has an annual footfall of about 20,000 people. All ages play cricket from 5 to 70 year olds, male and female. There are indoor leagues that run throughout the winter for males and females and a variety of coaching courses take place. There is a busy shop and clothing business within the building. The standard of cricket in the area can be grateful for the service that the Cricket Centre has provided.

In other buildings we have a dance studio that has many uses from yoga to tap dancing. Where calves used to be reared you can find cricket bats being made, with a variety of customers from international level down to schoolboy cricket.

Grain Store to Garage

Where grain was stored there is now a garage servicing vehicles. In the old grain drier we have a theatre set designer doing a variety of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe to an exhibition at the Natural History Museum.

In the old hay barn, we have a joinery company doing jobs for clients all over the country. Where we used to store the seed, there is a business making chopping boards from reclaimed timber, having the claim that he was the only business to sell out at the Winchester Christmas market.

The latest addition to the farm is a coffee and sandwich shop located in the old machinery store, catering for local businesses and doing a good trade with the cyclists as we seem to be located on the latest cycle highway.

Where we used to house the bull, there is a company doing embroidery and printing on clothing. In the old farm office, we have a business repairing and washing horse rugs.

Finally we have a small livery yard of 14 horses. The family still live on the farm, we employ 2 people; we try our best to look after the farm and make it the best we can.

In a few words, that describes what happens at Dummer Down Farm in 2016 where now 40 people make a living from the farm. We will keep moving forward to assist the rural economy and manage the landscape to the best of our ability.

Andrew Ferguson

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Published in the December 2015 edition

Winter

The next few weeks and months will be short on daylight, probably wet and windy some of the time, maybe some snow, certainly cold and frosty when a high pressure system passes over and the skies are clear. The clear skies will allow us to enjoy  winter sun and blue sky, the sight of which will keep us going for some time after the clouds have come back. It is a great time to get out and about to take in the views.

The crops are alive but not growing. They are in a state of almost zero metabolism, just ticking over while conditions are so unfavourable. The autumn has been kind for the third year in a row, which gives the new crop a good opportunity to get well established, which is the basis of a good yield next year.

The cattle are back in the barns now, off the wet soils and dining on the conserved grass silage and hay. Not long before the new year and the cycle starts all over again.

Quiz Questions (and answers!)

2015 has been the ‘UN International Year of the Soils’, as designated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to raise awareness of why soils are important for food security and the ecosystem.

Previously, 2014 was the UN ‘International Year of Family Farming’ and they have put forward that 2016 will be ‘International Year of Pulses’, that is leguminous crops to you and me, so get ready with the peas, beans, lupins, clover and so on. Pulses are important, and everyone needs a pulse!

The Chinese Zodiac year for 2015 has been the year of the Sheep, which actually lasts until February 7th 2016, and then the Chinese Zodiac year will be the Year of the Monkey, fun loving, cheerful, energetic and clever. The monkey is also fond of snacking rather than having a regular meal!

Start a List

The mild weather has kept a few flowers going much later than might be expected. I have seen Dandelions, Herb Robert, Daisies, Speedwell, Scarlet Pimpernel and Thistle, to name a few. There are good strong signs of the winter bulbs now, daffodils are easily found just through the soil surface.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

The weather forecast is beginning to sound much more seasonal so gloves, scarves and boots may soon be everyday warm wear. Best wishes to everyone and here's hoping for a smooth, well fed glide into the New Year.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the November 2015 edition

Well Sown is Half Grown

After a few very wet days at the beginning of October, sowing continued without many holdups. The seeds are nearly through the soil surface from the second bout of sowing and already well established from the earlier September bout of drilling.

The maize and potatoes are harvested now, the fields cultivated and sown with the next crop.

Three in a Row and a Bonus Mark

The previous two autumns have been kind, so this year is the third that has given us good sowing conditions. I am sure this has contributed a big benefit to the final yields of the crops, after all if the crops get away to a good start they can cope with a lot during the rest of the year up to harvest, we just need an average summer.

Soil temperatures are falling at about the average rate this year, there is still a Soil Moisture Deficit (SMD) as there always is in the autumn, but the wet days mentioned earlier brought it down a lot. When the SMD is zero then the drains start to run. Not many fields in this part of Hampshire are drained because the chalk soils tend to be free draining, so ditches are not common, only where water collects, i.e. from roads.

One Swan doesn’t Make a Winter

The proverbial lone swallow is not bringing summer, and the single early migrating Siberian Bewick swan arriving 25 days early does not mean that we are going to get a hard winter.

There are plenty of berries, acorns and beech mast on the hedges and trees in the area, more an indication that we have had a good season for berries. Whatever the winter period brings there should be more food for the wildlife.

The effect of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean on the Jet Stream winds seems to be very important for the winter weather here. This year the El Niño is strong so it is expected that the Jet Stream will bring more rain across the Atlantic and this could end up as snow.

A good cover of snow will protect the fields from frosts. The Met Office have said that they will know more in November, however as experience tells us, long range forecasting is a mug's game, so keep looking out of the window!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the October 2015 edition (there was no September edition)

Autumn Approaches

Days seem to get shorter quite quickly and uncannily the air takes on an autumnal feel at the first days of September.

August was wet, I measured 114.5mm for the month here, well above average. Other parts of Hampshire got a further 25 mm or so. There were quite a few days when the rainfall was negligible but the days were dull and overcast, so the crops did not dry out much, harvesting was held up for 11 consecutive days at one stage.

Harvest

Harvest had started in July with the Winter Barley crop and the yields were very good. Oil Seed Rape next, and yields were better than expected, a good average but not quite up to the yields achieved last year. They didn’t look very promising in the field but came good.

Wheat started in good weather and the crops were a very pleasant surprise with excellent yields and quality, just what we hope for. Spring barley was also cut at about that time, again the yields were very good.

And then a shower of rain turned into two and then four as the days passed, clouds rolled in a bit too often to let harvest continue. A few crops were cut between rain, and the remaining crops slowly began to deteriorate. In the worst cases the grain was sprouting in the ears, so the quality was gone.

Despite the awful predictions, when harvest did get back underway, the crops still yielded well and although the quality was poor and the sample was weathered, the grain came in well. The grain has had to be dried, and if you are looking for a silver lining fuel prices are lower at the moment. World grain prices are down, so the value of the filled barns may not meet some budgets. The position may change.

‘Well sown is Half Grown’

Crops for harvest 2016 are going in the ground over the next month or so. The first is Oil Seed Rape, which is already in and away, although some fields have already been hit by Flea beetle, highlighting the extra pressure that the lack of neonicotinoid seed dressings bring to the party.

Out and About

The swallows are gathering on the wires and will be gone soon. Two broods have been reared in many nests, and what a good year for blackberries and sloes. Mushrooms have been plentiful in some places, but the maggots seem to get in and busy very quickly. A mushroom is very tasty but a mushroom with extra meat - no thanks, so check carefully!

A Hill and Dale reader tells me of finding a slow worm on the top of a Lonicera hedge. Finding a slow worm is good, but an arboreal version is unusual! Maybe just a sun seeking reptile, who thought it had found the perfect basking spot!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the August/September 2015 edition

July and August for harvest, September and October for sowing

The summer months have been very dry in this part of the world, rain and thunderstorms scooting up to the left and right, but very little passing overhead. The crops on thinner or gravel soils are showing the effects of drought, as an agronomist the limiting factor to achieving the yield potential of the crops is painfully obvious.

Harvest looks as if it will be slightly early this year, but not especially hasty. Winter barley first, then Winter Oil Seed Rape, before the Spring Barley and Winter Wheat ripen in August. Statistically August is a wet month, but until September it takes a lot of rain to cause problems, the dry soils soak up the water and warm air hastens evaporation.

Late August will see the new Oil seed rape crops being sown, but this autumn the acreage will be down as farms cut back, the increased risk of Flea beetle and Aphids damage because of the ban on some seed dressings, and a low world price at the moment, reduces the attractiveness of the crop. August will also be the time to sow cover crops.

September and October will see the Winter wheat (see left, Anapolis, a high yielding hard feed winter wheat from Saaten Union) and Winter barley sowings get underway as fields are available.

There will be some harvest to finish in September, the Maize will need to be cut and  Potatoes will need to be lifted.

What's not to like about Potatoes, Spuds or Tatties?

Some ‘things’ on farms are so obviously right that you wonder how you managed before you had them. Quad bikes are an excellent example, JCB loaders are another, and a crop potatoes fits this particular bill, even in the stony soils of this area. Potatoes have been around for a long time in Europe, since they crossed the Atlantic from Peru and Bolivia. The rifle straight rows in the fields (see right) appeal to the eye, the growth is even and green, and the colour of the flowers make the crop great to watch. And then the versatile potato is so useful to call it a staple doesn’t seem to be quite good enough. There is a potato for every occasion! But don’t be tempted to try one from the field, they are all micro-chipped!

The Snail and the Thrush and the Strawberry

I have been so pleased to see a thrush working the snails in the garden and hedges around here, hearing the tap as they bash the snails on a stone, the road, even on the back doorstep to get the juicy snail out of its shell. Finding empty, broken snail shells all around is evidence of a great bit of biological control going on. The thrush will have survived the attentions of magpies and crows, and reared a brood, as well as singing those repeated phrases at the start and finish of the days. We need to see more of them.

Wild Strawberries growing on the roadsides are really tasty, and where they haven’t been thrashed into oblivion by the grass cutters they are a wonderful treat to find in the summer. Try them for yourself.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the July 2015 edition

"This month the article has been contributed by David Miller, Farm Manager for Wheatsheaf Farming Company at Folly Farm, North Waltham. David has been putting the farm effort into improving the soils that they farm, and here is a snippet of the work and philosophy of that drive towards sustainability. This is based on what was said recently for a visit by North Waltham W.I. and our thanks to David for his work."

Seumas Foster

Soil, The Farmers Basic Asset

The area of the land in the world that is soil suitable for growing crops is only about 11% or only 3% of the surface area of the earth.

As farmers we are custodians of the soil. Soil is the main natural resource available to us along with sunlight and water.

We are reaching a tipping point where farmers will no longer be able to find answers to a crop’s agronomic problem from chemicals or other inorganic means.

The soil is a living thing. In a teaspoon of healthy soil there will be more living things than there are people on the earth. They range from the smallest bacteria and fungi up to the more familiar earthworms. It is a true ecosystem and must be kept in balance for a soil to be healthy enough to sustain our crops. Soil health is measured by its capacity to function without intervention.

To help our soils become healthier we are using cover crops in our rotation to keep living roots in our soils when the land would normally be bare (left: cover crops being grazed by sheep during the winter). The roots exude sugars which are the food for lots of soil life. Mycorrhizal fungi have a large part to play in soil fertility as, by attaching themselves to growing roots, they can increase the efficiency of the nutrient gathering capacity by up to 700% (right: drilling spring barley into cover crop residue).

70% of this biological activity takes place in the top 3cm of soil. This 3cm of soil does not like being disrupted and if it is cultivated or ploughed it takes some time before it starts functioning again. With these facts in mind, we are adopting a policy of zero-till and purchasing a direct drill from New Zealand to establish all our crops.

The end results we are aspiring to achieve are a soil that has a living root in for 12 months of the year, is covered with decaying crop residue at all times, has a variety of different species growing in it and is as undisturbed as possible.

We are confident this will regenerate our soils and we will then be less reliant on chemicals and inorganic fertilisers.

David Miller

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Published in the June 2015 edition

Time Travellers

Well now summer has come, the cows are out in the fields, silage clamps are empty, cleaned and ready for the fresh grass crop and the crops are in ear or very close to it. The yellow fields of Oil Seed rape crops have gone as the petals fell, now the pods are filling as the seeds swell. Spring sown grass has come through and the maize for both forage and game cover should be emerging soon.

April was a very dry month with only 27mm, after a meagre 25mm in March. The first half of May has already brought 38mm which has kept the crops growing. What I find a surprise is how we underestimate the rate at which water is lost from the soil in the summer. Plants roots pull huge amounts of water from the soil during transpiration, up from the roots via the  stems and out of the stomata in the leaves after nutrients and some of the water has been photosynthesised to energy. The winds seem to blow more strongly and the relative humidity is lower so the air has much more capacity to hold moisture.

There are a few fields of potatoes around the parishes, being grown under contract for chips or crisps.

The planting operation is a ‘well oiled machine’, in fact lots of machines working in sequence to plant the seed potatoes sourced from Scotland quickly and efficiently. I counted 11 tractors with various machinery attached in one field this spring, an impressive sight.

Birds and Bees and Flowers

The hedgerows and verges are romping with plants, colour and activity. The first fledglings are out of the nest and being supplied by parents, and eyed up by the magpies and others who think of a fledgling as lunch.

Every buzzard that launches off in to the thermals seems to have a mobbing crow or rook wheeling around it, harassing the buzzard until it is a sufficient distance away from the territory that is being guarded.

Honey bees have been swarming this May, as the hives fill up with new bees so a queen will go off with part of the hive looking for establish a new colony, leaving the old colony to enjoy the space. Swarming bees are not aggressive, they will have filled up with honey before they left, and can be collected by a beekeeper and re-housed. Nevertheless I would keep a suitable distance away so as not to disturb them.

The peanut feeder in my garden has regular visits from a Greater Spotted Woodpecker that swoops across from the trees in a series of short hops until it arrives at the feeder. The sparrows and chaffinches have been paying attention and now know that while the woodpecker attacks the nuts through the mesh, some bits of peanut will fall under the feeder, so that is where they take up position. It is the quickest that get most, but the woodpecker is a good provider so there seems to be enough for all.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the May 2015 edition

Exhaustion- Phew

Everyone knew it was coming and everyone was not to be disappointed. The work load has been intense as, finally, after what seemed like a long time, spring kicked in and the demands of animal and crop husbandry became intense.

An Early Lunch?

The spring crops sown in March have emerged well, the seedbeds were pretty good and so they had a great start. What did cause a bit of a surprise was the speed that Pea and Bean Weevils (Sitona lineatus) started to cause damage to the spring Bean crops. This small (up to 5mm) greyish weevil causes visual damage by ‘U‘ shaped notching the outside edge of the bean leaves, giving a very distinct symptom. The weevil then lays eggs on the soil surface around the bean and, when the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow down and live on the roots and nodules of the bean, which can be debilitating for the plant with a reduction in the yield potential of the crop. Spring crops are less able to compensate than winter crops.

This pest is ubiquitous, living in the countryside and living on clovers and making hay when the sun shines in the shape of a whole field of food. The clue is in the name, as they will feed on any legume crop, agriculturally beans, peas and clover are vulnerable.

Yellow

Last month I was commenting on the fact that yellow seemed to be the most common colour for flowers in the spring. Well now I know why, and it is because it is the light that is left over when the plant has taken what it needs for photosynthesis. Visible light is made up of differing wavelengths and we can see them as Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Light at each end of the spectrum are the most valuable to the plant, so they absorb these colours, leaving yellow and green to be reflected back, which is what we see.

How many leaves still to emerge?

There is an infallible way of checking on crop development and all that is needed is a steady hand, a sharp finger nail or pen knife, maybe a hand lens and a bit of concentration. The embryonic ear (shown far left in the picture) containing the grains sites, and all the leaves yet to emerge, are rolled up in the plant stem. The ear and the top leaves will be the most important for yield production and are the ones that must be fed and protected to get the best from the crop. Any crop protection or fertiliser can be deployed at the best time if you know what to expect of the crop. By carefully unrolling the leaves, each layer can be revealed until finally the ear can be found, and the grain sites can be checked with a lens, although they are still undifferentiated tissue at this stage. With a bit of practice you can get quite proficient at this field scale dissection.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the April 2015 edition

Up Hill and Down Dale

“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape”

Field MeetingIt's that time of the year when everything has to be done at once. Fertilising, cultivating, sowing, rolling, harrowing, spraying, fencing, fetching, carrying, clearing up, repairs, loading, unloading, still a few meetings (see picture right) to go to, and this year registration for the new Basic Payment Scheme using the new computer system that the Government has nearly got into reliable working condition, but not quite!

The crops in the fields are slowly beginning to get going, but the nights have stayed quite cold, if not frosty. March is also dry, although what the rest of the month will be like we shall see. The spring crops of barley, beans and some others are going into good seedbeds, so will be emerged and growing fast in April.

The first spreadings of fertiliser can go on in March, but the main doses are scheduled for April when the rate of growth of the crop is fast enough to use the nutrients most efficiently. As in previous years, some of the Nitrogen will be spread using a very clever guidance system that allows us to automatically vary the rate according to the crop needs. The backward areas may get a bit more to encourage them, the forward areas can be cut back so they don’t get too lush - we  can now put the fertiliser accurately where it will do most good. The GPS control is getting so good now that the accuracy is reliable to a centimetre or two, ‘it’ knows where you are, which can be very useful because even the best drivers can get lost in a field! I don’t think it will be long before weed recognition systems coupled to a spray nozzle will be taking out weeds in crops one by one.

Frog Spawn, Early Bumbles and a Butterfly

The first frog spawn appeared in my pond on March 13 and only a few handfuls, so far. In previous years we have had much more spawn and frantic frog activity earlier in the year. Maybe more will come later, but clearly the season has not been right so far. It is most likely the cold nights which have discouraged the amphibians so far, perhaps the low rainfall has not helped. I think the adults are around because I found plenty during the winter at various times when out and about.

Bumble bees and a Brimstone butterfly made an appearance on a warm weekend when temperatures went up to 14c in the early afternoon. Spring is a stealthy and shy season.

I Hope You Like Yellow

Yellow is the colour of spring, so many flowers are yellow early in the year, daffodils and primroses and the yellow middles of daisies. The yellow flowers of Oil Seed Rape will be in full bloom in April, and attracting bees and other pollinators.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the March 2015 edition

As the Days Grow Longer....

4 or 5 minutes a day of light makes all the difference, small daily change soon becomes obvious over a month or so, something commuters and farmers alike will notice. The birds are certainly quick off the mark and soon refurbishing old nests, building new ones and the songbirds are claiming territory by singing as much as possible. The crops are waking up and feeling ready for breakfast so a little something from the fertiliser menu will be offered as March gets going. The main course may not be needed until April when growth is approaching full speed. This winter has not been particularly cold or wet, although some days have been raw and unpleasant. As the sun gets higher the heat gets a bit stronger.

Bugs

The early sown wheat and barley crops are well established but some plants have some shoots that are infested with a pest called Gout Fly. There are two generations of this fly in a year, the adults flying about in August and September will lay white eggs on the leaves of early emerging autumn cereal crops. These eggs are large for fly eggs, laid singly or sometime in pairs on leaves about a third of the leaf length from the soil, and are very easily seen once you get your eye in.

In The Fields - A Gouted TillerThe eggs hatch and the larvae burrows into the centre of one shoot of the plant where it stays until it pupates. The plant reacts by over-growing that shoot, so the appearance is of a big thickened shoot larger than others on the plant. Each shoot by the way is called a ‘tiller’ in farming circles, so the plant is described as having ‘Gouted Tillers’ (see right).

These tillers can be very scruffy and seem to be more attractive to slugs, certainly they are usually rather ragged as they get older.

In The Fields - A MaggotThe saving grace is that usually only one or two tillers get infested and the larvae or maggot (maggot because it is a fly larvae) does not move over into fresh tillers. When the maggot (see left) is ready, it pupates and eventually can either hatch in situ or fall onto the soil in the spring. The plant will compensate for the loss of the tiller by producing more, there are always a few spare to compensate for such damage, so actually spraying is really not worth while and rarely done, unless the infestation is very bad and spotted at the egg stage.

The second generation which emerges from these overwintered larvae are the destructive generation. They will lay eggs on backward crops and the larvae live in the stems just below the ears and will destroy the stems and cause real losses, BUT, they only attack backward stems so most plants in most crops are likely to be too advanced for them when they hatch looking for a suitable site to lay eggs.

So this very visual pest is part of the eco system of a cereal crop, an occasional problem and easily avoided by making sure the crops are established at the proper time.

2015 - International Year of Soils

2015 has officially been declared the International Year of Soils – a platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential eco-system services.

What would we do without it?

Seumas Foster

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Published in the February 2015 edition (there wasn't a January 2015 edition)

A’ Dairy Diary’ - January 15, 2015
by Barrie, Rose and Glen at Grammarsham Dairy, home of the Chalvington Herd of pedigree Friesian Holsteins

In the Fields - Barrie at work in Grammersham Dairy04.00am  Barrie is milking today, but we take it in turns to spread the load. Get the parlour ready and bring the cows round from the yard. It's dark and cold, much nicer in summer when the cows are out. Check the dry cows that are due to calve to make sure they are OK.

04.30am  Start milking (see right). There are 185 today, by the end of March we shall be up to full numbers of 200 when all the cows have calved.

07.30am  Finished the morning milking.  Glen and Rose arrive and start to bed up the yards with straw and get the feed ready for the cows. This is a mix of concentrates, barley straw, grass and maize silage put into a huge mixer tub which stirs the lot up, and then food can be delivered out of a side chute into the feeding areas on the edge of the yards.
Meanwhile the diary parlour has to be washed down and the milking equipment and pipe work cleaned down. While the cleaning is in progress any cows that are ready for AI can be dealt with.

09.30am  The milk tanker arrives to collect the milk held in the bulk tank from last night and this morning, about 6,500 litres at the moment.
Start to scrape the yards to clean up the muck, and the calving boxes and holding pens are bedded up. The cows are back in their beds on clean straw and lots of food. It's like an hotel.
Note: Vet due next week for the fortnightly visit to check the cows and confirm they are in calf again. Also expect to have a visit from ‘Comfy Cow’, for foot checks and trimming (important)!!

In the Fields - Young stock at Hill Farm11.00am  Barrie can go home for Breakfast. Glen and Rose off to Hill Farm to bed up and feed the young stock (see right), where they are housed for the winter, and Rose will be rearing and looking after the calves. The 3 bulls (one Angus and two Hereford) are at Hill Farm for the purpose of getting the heifers in calf, and they need to be looked after too.

12.30pm  Lunch

02.00pm  Barrie comes back to milk again in the afternoon. There are plenty of other jobs to be done on the farm. If the pipework is frozen everything takes longer, but today we have mild weather.

06.00pm  Afternoon milking finishes. Wash down and leave it ready for the morning.

08.30pm  Barrie back again to check the cows at night. This is a good time to see if any are showing signs of calving tonight, if so they will need to be moved to the calving pens, or coming in heat and might be ready for AI tomorrow.

Looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow!

Barrie, Rose and Glen

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Published in the December 2014 edition

Autumn turns to mid winter

Colourful leaves are still falling, soon the trees will be only left with bare branches, on the tips of which are the buds which will burst to new leaves next spring.

So far the autumn has been rather typical with lots of rain and a few sunny days, but also rather overcast dull days which seem to be really short, and although we have had a few frosts, nothing cold enough yet to ‘bear a duck’. We shall have to wait until after Christmas and seen what comes along then.

In the Fields

The autumn sown crops are settling down and growth is slowing, the crops are generally well established. Even the latest sowings are showing in the rows now and should be strong enough to cope until the spring. The livestock are back inside, the fields are too wet now for them to stay out without ‘poaching’ the ground, that is to say making areas a sea of mud. The hedge cutters are out and so are the ploughs when conditions permit. There is still a little spraying to complete the disease control in Oil Seed Rape (OSR)and weed control in OSR and cereals, but only if the conditions are good enough to get a good result.

Fungi

The weather has encouraged an excellent crop of fungi in the hedges and woodland, and also out in the fields growing on the chopped stubbles. Some of the bracket fungi on fallen logs are spectacular so keep on the lookout for them when you are out and about.

Birds

A few flocks of Golden Plover have been seen out in the middle of stubbles or cultivated fields, and Fieldfares have turned up to eat all the hawthorn and holly berries. They make quite a noise as they call to each other down a hedge row. Every year the pigeons threaten crops, but they only eat OSR when they are hungry and can't find anything else, like acorns, to eat. Last year they hardly touched the field crops and stayed in woodland, but then it was a mild winter. This year there is some good beech mast so the pigeons could stay in the woods again this year.

Thoughts to Ponder;

‘Friday’s a day as’ll have his trick, The fairest or foulest day o’ the wik.’

‘A windy Christmas and a calm Candlemas are signs of a good year.’

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the November 2014 edition

At last, a bit of MUD!!!

We are always pleased to see rain when there has been a dry spell, but rain always stays a bit too long at this time of year. My rainfall total for September was a meagre 9mm, less than half an inch, but October has started to redress the balance very effectively.

Autumn sowing has been completed, a few fields are waiting for maize to be cleared and will be the last sowings. Oil seed rape crops have mostly grow away well, there are also some large areas of ‘cover crops’ in the area, planted to protect and improve soils by mopping up nutrients and improving soil structure before sowing spring crops. The use of cover crops has taken a big up-turn in interest recently with new seed mixtures coming available to try, so now they need to show what advantage they have to make the expense worthwhile.

The new Countryside ‘Eco’  Support

Within the European political system there is a support for the countryside which protects/enhances wildlife and supports rural business. This has been in part the Single Farm Payment, but from the beginning of next year this will morph into the Basic Payment Scheme or ‘BPS’. The principles are still much the same but the opportunity is being taken to improve the whole bureaucratic system. Farms who apply will need to follow new guidelines on the number of crops grown each year, and this is called ‘Greening’ which means that the farm will have to have at least 3 different crops if they have more than 30 ha of arable land, so there are lots of hours being spent checking what is required. It is never quite as straight forward as you hope, not after the ministry have been at it.

As well as Greening, farms will also have to have 5% of the arable land in what is being called the ‘Ecological Focus Area’ (EFA), which will be similar to the old Set Aside system, but the new requirements need to be understood and integrated with existing ecological schemes, eg. ELS and HLS.

The deadline looms large so lots of head scratching and steaming calculators expected in the next two months.

Mice and Sloes

Mice, both Short Tailed Field Voles and Long Tailed Field Mice, seem to be very common this year, which should be good news for predators. Some parts of the country have been commenting on a shortage of Sloes, but I would say that our parishes have had a very good year for blackthorn fruit. Do we need to wait for a frost before using them to flavour gin? Probably not!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the October 2014 edition

Seasonal Changes

The shorter days and cooling nights of autumn are nearly upon us as the colours change on the trees and hedgerows. September has been very warm and dry, probably breaking records somewhere, so the soil is a bit dusty and hard.

Harvest

click to see larger image ...The last crops were ripe and ready to cut by the end of August and a dry week after the Bank Holiday saw the last crops combined. The yields have been good but prices are still very disappointing, so no sign yet of a pendulum swing in the markets towards a price increase.

Plenty of grain has moved off farm out of store to buyers storage or maybe onto a boat to be exported to Europe.

The new crops are going in the fields where the seedbeds are suitable, maybe there will be a delay until a bit more rain has softened the lumps. Localised thunder storms have been both cruel and kind this year.

Most fields are not ploughed these days, cultivations are enough to prepare a seedbed and should be quicker and cheaper as well as improving soil structure. However soil inversion techniques (jargon for ploughing!) still have a very valuable role because of the burying and levelling process.

Important Dates

This year the National Ploughing Match (click for more information and link to map) is taking place in the district on the weekend of October 11/12 and should be a spectacular ploughing festival, with old machinery, modern machinery and superbly skilled ploughmen, as well as horses ploughing and plenty of trade stands.
The venue is on fields of Manydown Farm and GB Foot of Monk Sherborne, just north of Basingstoke on the A339 Newbury Road.

Well Worth A Visit !!

Locally, the Basingstoke and District Agricultural Society Ploughing Match is due to take place on Saturday, October 4 (9.00am to Midday) at Preston Farms, Preston Candover RG25 2DS. Come and have a walk around on Saturday morning to see the local ploughmen showing what they can do!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the September 2014 edition (there were no July or August articles)

Back to the Start

Another turn of the wheel and the next cycle of cropping has started. Although harvest has finished now, progress is not straightforward despite the optimistic prospects in July. The next arable year has already started, overlapping new crop with old crop on the farm.

Harvest started about a week earlier than last year and the first crops to ripen (winter barley and winter oil seed rape) were cut without too much hassle, and straw was quickly baled. The winter barley fields are going to grow the next winter oil seed rape crop and sowing in mid August is always a busy time.

TView across cultivated fieldhe barley did not disappoint, but the oil seed rape did not fulfil its potential. The yields were below expectations and so possible causes have been listed and weighted, with the intention to learn something for the next crop. I think the crop put a bit more into vegetative growth and not enough into seed production, plenty of rain and good temperatures kept the crop growing longer than was good for yield. The root system could have been trimmed by the wet conditions in the winter and early spring, the crop never compensated later because it didn’t need to go looking for water and nutrients in the summer and continued too long in the leafy stage. A bit of stress encourages good seed production. Fungal diseases also flared up and despite using a ‘robust‘ fungicide programme pressure was very high.
Pictures: Above left: Cultivator on White Hill / Above right: View across cultivated field.

The spring barley and wheat have done well although the showers and unsettled weather following the tail end of hurricane Bertha are very disruptive. The price of wheat has taken a huge tumble on the world market, and the effect is not good on budgets!  Agriculture commodities are ‘price takers’, the effect of multiple independent production in a market, however markets can change quickly as supply and demand balance varies according to predictions.   

Our cropping plans for the autumn are affected by the new E U directives that require 3 crops to be grown on each holding, and the areas of the crops is being controlled. Although the new rules do not officially start until 1st January 2015, sowing decisions this autumn need to take the rules into account.

Hedges

Some traditional hedgerow species need regular cutting to keep them growing strongly, but the type and timing of cutting is important. Blackthorn and hawthorn and field maple need to be trimmed annually to maintain young growth. Hazel needs to be cut right down every 8 – 20 years (ie, coppiced), annual trimming spoils it.  Ash coppices beautifully, makes tall stems for firewood and will survive for hundreds of years if treated in this way. Field maple, although a lovely tree for autumn colour, is brittle and letting it grow tall in a hedge will result in branches being easily damaged by wind, so cutting will keep the growth vigorous. Other species like elder and wayfarer cope well with most conditions.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the June 2014 edition

First you Speed Up, and then you Slow Down, and then you Speed Up Again

The crop development has slowed down after seemingly being in advance of the average, which is really what averages are all about.

Some field work has been seriously held up because of rain and wind, although the April showery rainfall has kept everything growing.

The ears of wheat and barley will be emerged by the end of May and Oil Seed rape will have finished flowering and the pods will be filling. This year has seen a very long and even flowering period, it seems that the side branches have flowered more than usual.

Silaging in EllisfieldSilage grass has just been cut (see picture right - click to see larger image) now that a good window of better weather is looming.

The AD plant digestate has been spread on a few fields and the prospect of good fertiliser produced after recycling appeals to me as a proper way to reduce using expensive, finite resources, meanwhile there is the prospect of learning how to use it to the benefit of all.

Territorial Blue Tit

While I was in a farmyard the other day a blue tit (see left) started to attack its reflection in my wing mirror, and it was not going to give up easily.

Then it saw another reflected bird in a mirror on a tractor and had to fend off two interlopers!!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the May 2014 edition

Like a Well Oiled Machine

Once the weather conditions improve and the advancing spring has reached the point of no return, which is usually around the beginning of April, there is a lot of work to do in the fields, but no longer enough time to do it in. Somehow the jobs do get done, but only with a bit of luck if the weather holds and by working long hours.

Spring planting went in March and the new crop emerged quickly to get away to a good start. The acreage of spring crops is greatly reduced in comparison with last year, nevertheless there is a good area of spring barley, poppies and spring beans, and even a couple of fields of potatoes (see above right) which are being grown for the crisping market.

Variability that makes the Average

The crops are a bit forward on the seasonal average, although we have had a mild winter and few frosts the growth has been only slightly advanced. The winter barley will be in ear before the end of April, and Oil Seed Rape has been flowering well for a while. This season the Oil Seed Rape seems to have more side shoots, each bearing a raceme of flowers which will extend the flowering season. Not good news for some hay fever sufferers perhaps and, although the crop does not provide the best honey, the bees might do well.

The cows are out on grass now, all the winter stocks of fodder have been used up, but it won’t be long before the new season grass cutting gets going to stock up again for next winter.

Avian Observation

Buzzards and Red Kites are common, a thought that has been put up for consideration is that the success of these birds might be a reason why the kestrel population seems to have reduced, perhaps a good example of the shift in the dynamic equilibrium that is the balance of nature.

May should see an explosion of new bird life as eggs hatch and fledglings start to come out of the nests.

The swallows (left) arrived here around the 4th of April on a wave of warm air, and as ever it is great to see them back.

Many thanks to Ben for his contribution in April's Hill and Dale.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the April 2014 edition

"From Farleigh Wallop fields to the Great Plains of America",
a guest appearance by Ben Licence

I worked for Chris Allen at Fordham & Allen for nearly 8 years around Farleigh Wallop. I came to the decision that I needed to experience the world of farming and decided to go to America and experience the 2000 mile harvest.

click to view larger image ...I headed out to Kansas in April last year to work for Schiltz Harvesting, where I trained on a 40 foot combine harvester ready to go on the road. Harvest began in May down in Vernon Texas. We took 4 combines, 6 lorries, 2 tractors and grain carts and various vehicles. We worked from Texas then moved to Oklahoma, Kansas, to South Dakota and finished the wheat in North Dakota.

After we had finished the wheat and some Canola (oil seed rape) we headed back to Kansas for the fall harvest where we harvested Corn (maize), Milo (Grain Sorghum) and Soya beans.

We supplied high moisture corn to a feed lot which needed $35 million worth of corn to feed the 68,000 head of cattle for the rest of the year, everything else went to the large grain elevators that dot the landscape.

click to view larger image ...Whiclick to view larger image ...le in the USA I experienced months of driving my personal combine, the large 18 wheel lorries moving equipment up and down the States, as well as some carting to the elevators.

It was an amazing experience that I will never forget and I would encourage anyone who wants to try to have the courage to experience the wider world in whatever industry they are in.

Photos (click on photo to view larger image):

The first photo (top right) is in South Dakota with our 4 combines and the farm's 2 in a 1600 acre field.
The second photo (
above left) is me posing for a photo on the combine that I drove while on harvest.
The third photo (
above right) is me harvesting, showing the beauty of North Dakota.

Ben Licence

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Published in the March 2014 edition

Still Wet

Tumbling records, and wall to wall news programmes (or rather bank to bank) with reports of flooding across the country and intrepid reporters/politicians/Environment Agency officials paddling about like latter day King Canutes. Meanwhile the fields in our area flourish ...

There are a few pockets on water, particularly where a winter bourne has sprung up as the ground water levels have reached the surface and they will continue to run into the Spring and early Summer.

Hope Springs

The jet stream, bringer of the intense low pressure systems on the conveyor belt across the Atlantic. is beginning to straighten out and there is a prospect of better weather.

Well Sown is Half Grown

Spring sowing can start when the soil conditions are right, going too soon will lead to poor seedbeds and the chance of poor establishment. Spring crops need to hit the ground running, they don’t hang about like winter sowings, they have one chance so it pays not to jump the gun.

March will be a very busy month, but then it usually is as the new growth of the year starts to move. We will want to have spread a lot of fertiliser by the end of March to take advantage of the warming soils. The residue of nitrogen in the soil will be depleted by rain leaching it out, so this year we can assume that levels will be low.

Spy in the Sky

Technology helps by providing satellite pictures of fields and is able to measure the Green Area Index (GAI) of overwintered crops. This is an indication of the ground cover of the crop canopy which in turn can be taken as a guide of the amount of Nitrogen the crop has taken up to reach that stage. The final performance of the crop can be estimated, and we know how much nitrogen we shall need for that target yield, so knowing what the crop has already got allows a better assessment of what is needed in the Spring. This is all part of the drive to improve efficient use of Nitrogen and not waste any that could pollute the ground water. I have just been out sampling oil seed rape fields (see picture in the left hand column) to determine the growth of the crops over Winter and the weight of the canopy so far, and comparing it to satellite predictions.

I am pleased to report that both systems gave the same results!! This will be a very useful guide for working out our nitrogen application rate this Spring.

Return of the Flowers

The snowdrops have been very good. It looks as if daffodils will be early but the Cuckoo Pint and Cow Parsley are pushing on in the hedge bottoms. Hedgerow buds are swelling, tempting fate a bit perhaps because a frost in March can be sharp enough to set back this early growth.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the February 2014 edition

Wow, Wet or What?

There are times when I am pleased to live on a hill and not on a flood plain as between December 17 and January 12 the rainfall has totalled 315mm (12.4ins), which probably qualifies as exceptional! I admit to being quite surprised when I first did the addition.

The wind strength has also caused some damage, a lot of older hedgerow trees covered in ivy have been blown out. A few big trees have been blown over, in Church Lane in Ellisfield an oak straddled the road making a bridge between the banks on either side, fortunately high enough for most traffic to pass underneath.

At least all this rain seems to have found its way into the soil around here, those suffering people in other parts who have been flooded and who have had to endure this deluge have had the short straw.

The temperatures have stayed above average so far, soil temperature is still at 5 degrees centigrade and the crops have been growing slowly all winter and generally are a good colour, which is quite different from last year. Snowdrops are showing bud in some places and catkins have plumped up a bit. There is still plenty of time for some frost and snow before spring, remember last March which was AWFUL!!

Fewer Spring Crops

There will be fewer spring crops sown this year because autumn sowing has gone well, so the area of spring barley will be reduced. Last year there was a lot of replacement sowing with spring beans, spring oil seed rape and poppies, which will not be needed this spring. The fields that are in an environment scheme are in stubble and will remain so until mid February. Spring barley suits the local soils, fits in well with the cropping and rotations, and most important – we like it!

Changes Ahead

In 2015 there will be new rules for the Common Agricultural Policy, one of which is shown below.       

Crop Diversification (2 crops over 10 ha, 3 crops over 30 ha)

Arable area Cropping requirement:

Under 10 ha - Exempt
10 ha to 30 ha - Two crops with any crop occupying no more than 75% of the area
Over 30 ha - Three crops with any crop as above and any two crops occupying no more than 95% of the area

Arable land is any land cultivated for crop production, fallow or set aside including land under glass.   It is assumed to include temporary grass.

Different genera, species of brassicas/solanacea/cucurbitacea, fallow, grasses and winter and spring crops qualify as different crops.

A few more calculations will need to be done to stay within the rules!

Fact of the day: Next week the days will be 19 minutes longer.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the December 2013 / January 2014 edition

Quickly Into Winter

AS the leaves come off the trees, the oak is the last to loosen its grip and release them to the winds, so temperatures fall and daylight shrivels up, except for the occasional bright day when the low sun melts a bit of frost. These are the raisin days after the grapes of autumn.

The fields are generally quiet, crops are shutting down as the cold weather works its physiological effect and lays out the foundations for growth next spring. The last of the autumn drilling has been done , no more will attempted now, it has only been the opportunity created by a few dry days after a lot of rain that got these last fields finished. It is time to clean down and get the grease gun out and use the winter to maintain the kit and prepare for spring.

The cows are in, although sheep can stay out all winter if they have food and shelter.

The crops look well and are going into the winter in a good condition,  we shall look back on this autumn as one of the best for a long time.

Jobs To Do

There is quite a lot of time to be spent catching up with the latest thinking at meetings, reviewing the last season and picking up on any snippets that should be useful next year. The dreaded meetings take up a lot of time, and always seem to be scheduled for the only day in the week when the sun shines, however it is a rare meeting that does not yield something interesting.

The wild animals have food and shelter for the time being, however we still do not do enough for the help owls that need to catch voles by having some grass that is not hacked too short late in the year, which only destroys the habitat for the voles.

It will soon be time to put food and water out for wild birds as we get the inevitable bad weather.

And Finally For This Year...

As the weather forecasters always say, ‘Wrap up warm’, and for everyone in and around the fields, we wish you a Happy Christmas and Wonderful New Year and looking forward to see you carol singing.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the November 2013 edition

The Big Green Tablecloth

September and October have been slightly damp and warm, so the autumn sowing process has been a bit of a joy for a change. The crops have emerged with unusual haste from text book seedbeds in an even and green condition. Not quite what we have had to cope with some years! The effect is of a big green table cloth shaken out between the hedges. It is a great start to the production cycle of next year's harvest.

There are still a few fields of maize to harvest as well as a few late fields to sow, maize has been late to mature in keeping with the trend this year for all crops. Autumn cultivations will be underway, turning the soil to start the preparation of the spring crop seedbeds, as the leaves fall and days get shorter.

Soils need to be sampled for nutrients, so the required amount of fertiliser can be calculated and so avoid unnecessary waste.

Crops to Watch: Ancient and Modern

The field in front of the school at Cliddesden on the other side of the road is a crop of Maris Otter, a winter barley which is grown to produce very high quality malt for the brewing trade, highly sought after for beers and ales by the specialist brewers. It is a very old variety first grown commercially in 1966, bred by breeders in Cambridge, and revived by a consortium of merchants in 1992, ‘to be grown by the best growers on the most suitable soils’. It may not have the yield potential of modern varieties but it is in high demand and worth growing. Check Wikipedia.

The field on the other side of the road in front of the school is Oil Seed Rape, a variety with the catchy name ‘PT229CL’, which is a very interesting because it is tolerant of a particular herbicide only available to use with these varieties which have been selected by breeding not genetic modification. It has been chosen to see if the weed control choices can be widened. The P in the name indicates the Breeders ‘DuPont Pioneer’, and the CL indicates it is a ‘Clear Field’ variety. It may give a better way to control weeds that are difficult or expensive conventionally.       

A Hard Winter to Come?

Who knows, but it is fun (?!) to speculate as to what we may have to look forward to. It will be a ‘season ‘, and tomatoes shipped into the supermarket will not be worth eating, not after tasting your own home grown produce this autumn.

There has been a huge crop of acorns this year, just as there has been an excellent fruit year, with lots of apples in orchards and crab apples in the hedgerows. If we do get hard weather at least there will be some food for wild birds and animals to forage. Perhaps this excess will attract more migrants from Scandinavia or Europe to visit. Keep a watch as you go about.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the October 2013 edition

“Summer Extracts from the Farm Diary” or “What a Difference a Year Makes”

July 29: We finished cutting the winter barley but the winter OSR (oil seed rape) is late this year. Some of the barley straw has been baled and carted into the barns for the winter. Bit of rain last weekend but soon dried off and seems to help ripen the crops.

Aug 1 (National Day, Switzerland): Very hot today, it looks as if the summer could hang on a bit longer. Baler broke down - bearing failure - repairs took the rest of the day. Cutting OSR, yields reasonable but not as good as last year. Checked winter barley yields with yield maps from the combine, looks like good result and the quality is good so should get the malting premium. Moisture levels down below 12% by the evening.

Aug 9: Good day cutting wheat now, the first fields seem to be coming off better than expected. Straw clean and grain has a good specific weight (80+), what a difference from last year. No breakdowns on the combine (touch wood) but the headstock has been ripped off the topper so workshop has been busy rebuilding it.
Grass getting very short for the cattle, growth has slowed to nothing in the heat so we are moving them nearly every day. Got a cut of hay from the permanent pasture round the church.

Aug  15: Sowing new crop OSR after winter barley, two varieties we grew this year but the third variety we are growing is coming from Germany where the seed crop was grown, and they keep delaying delivery date. Not good for blood pressure. If it doesn’t come soon we will have to change the cropping plan.
Keep getting messages from the agronomist to spray herbicide straight after drilling and rolling. I need another tractor and driver to get all this done.
The maize is growing at last, about 2 inches a day in this heat. It may not be a disaster after all. Still need rain for the grass.
Cutting spring barley now, will go back to the wheat later. Barley is doing very well, seems to be crop of the year, neighbours also reporting good crops. Plenty of clean, dry straw to bale and cart.
First service today for new tractor.

Aug 26 (Late Summer Holiday): We all had w/end off, only a little bit of rain, much less than forecast. Back into the better wheat crop last week up the Avenue, and cut good yields/quality. Protein levels down but not a problem. Winter OSR has been shipped off the farm, we need the space in the stores.
Poppies cut by the contractor and in store. Alkaloids higher than last year because of the sun.
New crop OSR emerged and so is the volunteer barley, need to check recommendations to get early control.
Wheat still doing well, up to 11 tonnes/ha from Cordiale in Sullengers, and a very clean stubble.

Sept 1: Finished wheat two days ago, with spring wheat being last crops cut. Good crop, might try this variety (Mulika) again. Springs beans not the best crop, the top pods suffered with the heat and the seeds didn’t fill as well as they did last year. Still 1.5 to 2 days of work on the beans and then 26 acres of spring OSR in Long Broadmere and Mortimer Field to finish. Neighbours seem to be on about the same timetable. Pressured to get clear of the beans in time to avoid dusty conditions for Maggie’s party.

Jobs to do ...

1. Buy everyone a drink!
2. Start all over again!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the August/September 2013 edition

Phew, What a Scorcher

As of today (I'm writing this article in mid July), days of sunshine and high temperatures stretch away forwards and backwards, but there is no complaining, because everyone prefers good weather like this rather than a repeat of last year. If last year's solar radiation was 20% below average, this year it looks set to be 20% above average! Some people tell me this is the first time in ten years they have had wall to wall sunshine on their Cornish holiday.

The crops are making the best of the weather, still growing into the ripening phase, although some thin and/or gravelly soils will run out of water reserves very soon. Harvesting will be underway before the end of July, although the bulk of it will be done during August. Generally speaking, crops might be a week later than average but if the sunshine stays around then it could be an easier job than the last wet years. Winter barley will be the first to ripen so the fields on Farleigh Hill and around Cliddesden should be the first off. These fields will also be the first to be re-sown, this time to autumn Oil Seed Rape, planned to be in the ground by the end of August, so the straw will be baled and moved quickly. We will be wanting a bit of rain by then to lay the dust and help the new seeds along.

Mending the Soil

Over the previous wet years some soils have been structurally damaged by tyres and cultivations, so a dry spell does give a good opportunity to repair some of that damage by breaking up the soils and getting some air into it. This will help restructure the soils, improve drainage and allow better root growth for the next crops. This compacted layer is often not too deep and so, as long as a cultivator can get under the damaged layer, a good repair is possible - this will usually be in the normal cultivation depth. Cracks and fissures in the subsoil are more or less permanent and are to be protected, so working too deep must be avoided. If they are damaged then it can take a long time, perhaps tens of years, to restore them.

Cropping Next Year

The rotation of crops by type and suitability according to good husbandry principles continues, and at the present time it is unlikely that we will be able to find new crops that fit our requirements in the near future. It should be possible to stick with crops that grow well in our local conditions and that have a good market so they can be sold for a Profit!!

Soporific Weather

It's not just warm days that might induce a little drowsiness. It seems to me a bit of a conundrum that although I can stay awake through any amount of news reports waiting for the weather forecast, as soon as it comes on I fall immediately into a deep sleep that lasts just until the end of the forecast. Conversely when I would like to be fast asleep, the shipping forecast has me bright eyed and bushy tailed on the first syllable at 5.20am, but not for long!    

Wishing all a Happy and Heavy harvest.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the July 2013 edition

As the solstice approaches the time flies by, there is so much to do it brings a whole new meaning to the word busy.

The crops have really taken off in June and made fantastic growth to finally look as if they might not be too bad after all, but I never said that! Crop growth is still a bit behind the normal timings, but has made up a bit of time so harvest will not be delayed too long. What has become apparent is that the usual harvest sequences will be disrupted, progression from one crop to the next as they ripen will be uneven this time, particularly with oil seed rape because the flowering season has been so erratic this year. The combines will have to cut what is ready and come back when the rest has ripened, and move into another crop between.

Will harvest be later than usual? The answer at the moment is a non-committal ‘maybe-maybe not’, although I feel that the probability of a slight delay is the best bet. We shall have to wait and see.

‘Save The Bumble Bee’

Everyone will have heard of the 2 year ban on the use of some NEONICOTINOID insecticides, which will be implemented from 1st December 2013. This ban is designed to allow researchers  to determine if the insecticides as they are used now are actually harming wild bees. The ban will be reviewed  before the two year period ends.

The proposals restrict the use of three neonics, for seed treatment, soil application and foliar treatment on bee attractive plants and cereals. There are two neonics which are used in the horticulture sector which have a different chemistry to the banned materials and are significantly lower risk to bees and so are not restricted.

The biggest use for neonics is as seed dressings where they have become the default for insect control. As a treated seed germinates and grows, the chemical is taken into the growing plant and is able to control any biting or sucking pests that attack crops early, and also will prevent feeding by slugs. This has been very effective at controlling aphids which transmit viruses in Cereals, flea beetles and seed weevils in Cereals and Oil Seed Rape, insects in Sugar Beet and Linseed, and to some extent suppressing  wireworm, and so neonics have become very important in Maize. They are also important (essential?), in ornamental production for the control of vine weevil and sciaird fly, and will not be permitted for use in ‘Ornamentals flowering in the year of treatment’ during the ban period.

During this period it is expected that pests will have to be controlled by older chemistry applied through sprayers onto the growing crop, which is not the best way to control the pests.

Will Bees Benefit from the Ban?

Possibly, but the case against neonics does not seem to be proven, and the regression to older, less effective insecticides doesn’t seem like progress. Even commercial beekeepers would prefer to see crops treated with a neonic seed dressing than having lots of pyrethroids sprayed about. I feel that good weather during the ban period will have more beneficial effect for bees than lack of seed dressings, and perhaps a study to count bumble bees in the areas where the badger cull is taking place might show how many bumble bee nests are destroyed by badgers. Two years is not going to be long enough to satisfy all sides in this situation.

This month, as temperatures have risen, has seen a significant increase in bee activity, but like the rest of us they prefer the sun on their backs and plenty of flowers in the countryside.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the June 2013 edition

Looking forward to June

The Summer Solstice, the longest day in terms of daylight, will be June 21, and if the skies are clear and cloud free we should be in for a long, hot, perfect summer.  No harm in wishing and hoping, and maybe wishes will come true.

There is a lot going on in June in the fields, as crops flower, set seed and any surplus is harvested to make forage such as silage or hay for the winter.

Adding up the Degrees

An enterprising colleague worked out the accumulated degree days for this year from Jan 1 and then compared it with the 20 year average, and the conclusion was that the plants were about 2-3 weeks behind the normal growth. This can be seen in the fields as winter barley would normally be fully in ear by mid May, showing the bright green whiskery awns above the crop, and winter wheat ears would be pushing up past the last leaf (called the flag leaf), firstly showing as patches of a waxier green in the sea of leaf green and then changing the view to a field of ears.

This year barley has been very slow, although it has every prospect of catching up so it is unlikely that harvest will be late, unless something dreadful happens between now and then. This is called ‘managing expectations’!

Soon to be Revealed

The trees are also only coming into leaf slowly, as usual beech looks good. The ash trees seem quite variable, perhaps that is a symptom of the ‘Ash Dieback disease’ that came into prominence last autumn. Some horse chestnut trees seem to be a long way behind flowering as I look at them.

Field beans (see right) look good in the fields now. Germination and emergence has been as well as we could have hoped for. Beans grew well last year and with luck could do well again this year.

Watch out for the Bumble

Bumble bees have been foraging on the blossoms, feeding the first of the worker bees that the overwintered queens nurture to build up the colony for the summer. The workers are smaller so the first bees flying will be queen bees, the workers should be busy in June in the hedge rows and verges, and gardens of course.

Reliable Cow Parsley

Quick and statuesque, excellent foamy flowers,
impervious to disappointing weather, elegant in
sunshine and the regular, reliable precursor for
summer. What’s not to like about Cow Parsley?

Seumas Foster

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Published in the May 2013 edition

What Lovely Weather

The first swallows (see right) that I saw this year surfed in on the wave of warm air blowing in from the south on April 12, and they are setting about renovating old nests and building new ones straight away. A plentiful supply of mud is very useful. A few sharper eared people have reported hearing a cuckoo.

The crops, in common with all the vegetation in the parishes, needed the warmth to get away at last. The fields and the hedgerows are finally showing a welcome commitment to summer.

Cuckoo Barley

Sowing of the spring crops has been completed and, although soil temperatures have stayed in low single figures well into April, they are now on the up. If barley is sown in April it is called ‘Cuckoo barley’ and is not supposed to do any good. You will be pleased to hear that there are no such crops locally! The last crops to be sown have been pharmaceutical poppies and spring oil seed rape, and seedbeds are good after weathering by the frosts and rain.

Final Cropping Plans

Forward planning is essential in these days of cross compliance and tight margins, and usually the cropping plans made before the autumn sowing starts will be very close to the final actual cropping. This year started well last autumn but what with the weather and pigeons and so on, quite a few crops have had to be replaced, so the cropping template has been changing. It has been a nightmare getting materials ordered ahead and yet still having supplies on site ready for the day it is needed (which is, as usual, dictated by the weather).

Lesser Celandine and Wood Anemone

What a fantastic show from these two this year, Lesser Celandine (see left, with Cleaver and Dead Nettle) is a lovely yellow flower with the option of using as a food, if cooked or dried first. Look up the stroganoff recipe for inspiration! Coltsfoot is another early plant to flower and well documented uses can be found in any good herbarium, like all the early flowering plants it is a life line for the first insects after the winter. It seems that the Wood Anemone (see right, with Violet) prospers when the rhizomes can grow well during a wet summer, and although it is not a plant to eat (it’s poisonous!), woodland edges and roadside verges have some good patches on show this year.

Bluebells

Bluebells will be in flower when the Hill & Dale hits the mat (fingers crossed!!) and if the badgers are hungry they will eat the bulbs, along with almost anything else they can find; e.g. worms, birds eggs and bumble bee nests.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the April 2013 edition

Slowly, Slowly, .....

Since January there have been signs that there is still life out there, down in the hedge bottoms the tips of the Cuckoo Pint (left) began to show and, now in March, they are getting quite big, in spite of the awful weather. In April they will be in flower. The leaves start green all over and then develop irregular black spots, rather like Pulmonaria.  Celandine is another early starter that is struggling to keep our spirits up, but could put up a good show as the yellow flowers brighten up the roadsides.  In mid-March the sun has got a bit of strength but this can only be appreciated if you are behind glass and sheltered from the wind.

The cold winds have been very persistent, and on more than one occasion has brought an icy blast from the Arctic. Soil temperatures have stayed around 4’C which is not conducive of growth, so even though the days are getting longer it looks as if the path to spring is long and tortuous this year.

Frog spawn was laid on 7th March and almost immediately frozen, I am curious to find out how many tadpoles eventually hatch. Usually the frogs make a lot of noise in the days and nights  prior to the spawning, and rain and some warm evenings encourage them. This time the croaking and spawn were almost simultaneous, coinciding with a little warmth and some rain.

Work In Progress

The spring sowing has started (right) as the soil surface has dried enough.  February actually turned out to be a dry month on average at 35mm, although March will be above average if this weather continues. Last year, March was like dust bowl!
The frost and drying winds have done a fantastic job at breaking up the soil so they did crumble easily to a good seedbed. It has not been a year to cultivate too deep because the medium and heavy soils were still very wet underneath, so staying on the surface has been the aim. The farmers working with what is called ‘boys land’ on the chalk don’t know they are born!

The spring beans are in (left) and so is the spring barley, there will be poppies later but they are best left until the soil is warm and they can germinate and get away quickly.

Although poppy seed is tiny it has remarkable ability to grow whatever the conditions, but for a good crop we do need the seeds  to germinate and grow away together so there is an even crop to look after.

And …

Good luck to Ben who is off to drive a combine harvester across the U S of A, following the harvest from south to north as the crops ripen. It is quite a change but I am sure he will enjoy the experience!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the March 2013 edition

7 Consecutive Dry Days

It is just possible that we may look back at 7 consecutive dry days in February with a feeling of nostalgia and whimsy as brief respite in a wet year, or we could be counting the days of drought that started with the 7 consecutive dry days in February!

Prospects in the fields have improved now that spring is moving like an amoeba over the window sill, a bit more light as the sun climbs a little higher and the strength of the sun can be felt across your shoulders, if you are out of the wind!

A look at the crops now and, with some imagination, they are growing stronger. There is a big difference between the earlier sowings (good), and the later sown (backward) crops. One job this year for most farms has been making a decision about which fields will survive and those that are not going to make it and therefore need to be replaced. In March the axe will have fallen on the failures (no other word will do) and the bullets will have been bitten to replace those crops that do not have a reasonable harvest prospect.

March will be a very busy time in the fields as spraying, fertilising and sowing occupy all the available days. The grass will also be growing but March is perhaps a bit early for grazing, although if conditions are right then no doubt the livestock will take advantage. A few lambs might be seen in March.

Mad March Hares

March is a great time to see Brown Hares, as it is the peak month for mating and the crops have not grown up yet, so they are really visible. The best times to go out in search of them is the first two hours of light in the morning and the last two in the evening, as they are particularly active at these times. Find a spot where you can hide (or use a vehicle to sit in as Hares tend to ignore these) with a good view over open arable ground, making sure that the wind is blowing from the Hares to you - not the other way round, as they will scent you and ‘hare’ off.

The male hare (called a Jack) is very keen to mate with a female hare (called a Jill) at this time of year, so they will chase the Jill around. Sometimes, lots of Jacks will gather together and follow a single Jill but, if she is not ready to mate, she will turn around and fight them off with her front legs - this is known as ‘boxing’ and is a marvellous spectacle to watch.

If you walk across a field and disturb a Hare, take a look at the place where it sprung from and you will find a shallow scrape in the ground where it had been lying - this is known as a ‘form’. Each hare will have a number of forms dotted around the fields, all facing in slightly different directions and will choose one so it can lie facing into the wind and scent the air for any sign of danger. Because its eyes are situated on the side of its head the hare can also see directly behind itself, so there is no way you can sneak up on it as it has all directions covered. Actually nearly all directions - it does have a very narrow blind spot directly in front, resulting on occasion in it running into things when it is concentrating on the predator behind!

When you flush a hare make a note of which way it runs as it usually will turn and run uphill, as its big powerful hind legs and relatively short front legs mean it can actually run faster uphill! So, a good way to remember their names is ‘Jack and Jill ran up the hill’, and can do so at speeds of up to 35mph!

Seumas Foster

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Published in the February 2013 edition

A New Year – A New Winter

I can just hear people saying how welcome a bit of cold weather is at last, and I do not disagree. The frost stiffens up the mud and at last walking down farm tracks and footpaths is a lot easier. As a bonus the countryside demands to be photographed as snow temporarily transforms the view. The crops are safe for a while, especially the small Oil Seed Rape plants that are now hidden from the pigeons under the snow. Snow is a wonderful heat insulator so the crops are also protected from the worst of the frost as well.

Frost has the magical ability to change cold wet soil into a friendly strong, stable, tilthy soil, which is that prized state that is the ideal medium for seeds and spring growth of crops. The drainage is restored and the soil is able to hold moisture and nutrients in the spaces between the soil particles for plants as they grow when the warm longer days come later. A frost tilth is undoubtedly ideal for farming, seedbeds need much less horse power because the soil has been already ‘worked’ by the weather, and the all important seed/soil contact is as good as it can be.

Some weeds are killed by prolonged frost, most weeds can withstand a day or two of frost, but a long period will usually be enough to do some good. On the other hand most seeds will need a period of cold weather before they will germinate, this is called the vernalisation period and is probably important to prevent seeds germinating too soon after ripening, maybe avoiding growth starting just as the winter is coming. This is part of the dormant phase of a seed.

After all the problems last autumn sowing the crops as planned, there is a chance that we can still sow some of the seeds bought last year, but they do need a period of cold (vernalisation) to grow and produce a seed (or grain) successfully. The period of time for vernalisation varies with variety so for example the end of January would be last date for Solstice winter wheat, however the latest for Invicta winter wheat would be the end of February. We will need a bit of luck and the right weather to carry on sowing winter wheats, it is more likely that spring wheat, spring barley and spring beans will be chosen to sow in the remaining fields.  

Most fields that did get sown will have to be checked carefully to see how well the crops have grown because after the combination of serious slug grazing and wet waterlogged fields last autumn there will be areas, and maybe whole fields, that need to be redrilled with another crop. This could lead to some interesting patterns in some fields as they are split, time will tell.

Wildlife is struggling to find food now, the feeders in my garden are very busy today and will need to be topped up more often. Already today I have seen what might be a linnet or a corn bunting, both are possible in this area but I do find it difficult sometimes to tell the difference between some of our native species as they flash by, and it’s not good weather to hear them sing! The main thing is they are here and I have been able to watch them along with all the other birds today. I must remember to put some water out for them.

Seumas Foster

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Published in the December 2012 edition (combined December 2012 / January 2013 edition)

One To Forget- But It Won’t Be ...

It will not have escaped your notice that the fields are still wet, in fact very wet and muddy, and are looking very different from last year. The planned cropping carefully formulated according to good agronomic principles has been seriously disrupted, now it will be too late for successful autumn sowing and the fields will have to be planted with a spring alternative.

Several factors need to be considered when changing cropping. The economic considerations are important, but so is the need to get the best possible result and mitigate potential losses of growing a less valuable crop. The sourcing of new seed can be a problem because there may a severe shortage of suitable supplies, the seed suppliers cannot plan for such exceptional circumstances as we have endured this year. The crop rotation should be maintained as far as possible so plant pests and diseases do not get a free ticket. Storage requirements of replacement crops may be different from the planned crops, although most farms have sufficient flexibility to cope.

The most difficult problem is that spring sowing on some soils is not easy, heavy soils that can stay wet well into April are not much fun when it comes to sowing a spring barley into them and doing a job of which you are pleased.

Guidance From The Past

After looking back to last year to see what experience may have taught us and offer “a coping strategy” (farmers are notorious for a 12 month memory in most circumstances) and, if no solution is apparent, then asking the more wrinkled sons of the soil for a “‘living memory” review to check for similar circumstances could point up any lessons that can be drawn.

After this, then the only hope might be found in some of the wise old sayings:

By sowing in wet - is little to get:  Don’t waste your time and effort, be patient.

When frost will not suffer to dike and to hedge, Then get thee a heat with thy beetle and wedge: In other words get on with another job when you can’t do the one you wanted to do.

Sow four grains in a row, One for the pigeon, One for the crow, One to rot and One to grow: The well known old saying which recognises that if it’s not one thing then it’s another.

As the weather is in October, so it will be next March: We shall just have to wait and see!

Seagull, seagull, get thee on’t sand, ’Twill never be fine while thou’rt on land: After seeing the seagulls following the ploughs, this seemed appropriate.

And, bringing us up to date;   

It’s not easy being green - Kermit the Frog.

Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone.

Seumas Foster

IMAGES
FROM
SEUMAS FOSTER

Most can be clicked on to display a larger version

IN THE FIELDS …

Here are the ruminations of agronomist and Ellisfield resident, Seumas Foster. These articles, on the vagaries of the seasons and its effects on farming and wildlife, first appeared in Hill & Dale, the monthly magazine of the United Benefice of Cliddesden, Dummer and Ellisfield with Farleigh Wallop.

Articles going back to December 2012 are held on this page. Just scroll down to read any of these articles.



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Stitchwort

Toadflax

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Elder Flower

Dog Rose

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Wheat

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Chicory

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Poppies

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Come Dancing?

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Guelder Rose berries
in the hedgerow

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Sampling
Oil Seed Rape

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Silaging in Ellisfield

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Harvesting

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Frost on Wire