new welney sign

The Welney Website

Ken Goodger's "Farming Diary" July 2011

page created 17th August 2011, amended/updated Saturday, 18 October 2014
horse plough

For several years Ken Goodger wrote a series of excellent articles for our parish magazine, Welney News, published under the title 'Farming Diary'.
This article was posted courtesy of Ken and the then editor of WN.
Regretably, posting other diaries have been blocked by the successor editor. 

This article was first published in issue 82 of Welney News

"What a summer we have had so far, extreme dry weather from February through to June and we even had Welney designated an official drought area. Did any eagle-eyed villagers spot the Welney/Tipsend field that featured on the BBC national news.? Yet again weather has dominated the farming scene so far this year, we returned from a late holiday around the 4th March and up until late June we had only received around 25mm rain. The dry spell that started end of February/early March saw much frantic farming activity as planting and drilling conditions were excellent following the hard frosts we had received early winter. Drilling of barley, spring wheat, sugar beet and then the planting of potatoes went ahead in perfect conditions although towards mid April conditions were very dry and those crops drilled into more difficult soil without irrigation would struggle.

If you've visited this page before you may need to "refesh" the page to see the latest version by clicking the browser reload button

The barley and spring red wheat were drilled into land ploughed after the late frosts and followed the removal of the late lifted sugar beet so ploughing was only completed during February. These fields had seen the beet harvester and trailers compact the headland and outside areas of the fields and it was these areas that started to show signs of stress on the young emerging seedlings, they emerged well but soon started to yellow instead of being a nice green colour. We applied through the sprayer applications of trace elements (products containing copper, magnesium and manganese) which are absorbed through the leaf and taken in by the plant to help growth in these times of stress: this combined with applications of granular ammonium nitrate helped to keep the crops going, at this time of year we were also experiencing heavy morning dews and I am sure this helped tremendously. Some of the red wheat at the back of Stockyard Farm was drilled into areas of heavier (more clay) soil type and these areas remained dry and crop did not emerge in these areas. I think overall we probably ended up with 85% establishment.

Sugar beet that had been drilled into this type of land also struggled to emerge. On some of the more difficult soils the beet emerged but then failed to grow beyond about the 6 to 8 leaf stage and one could clearly see when driving by fields plants at two or three different growth stages in one field.

Potatoes however did emerge well and grew quite well where crops had been planted late March /early April. These tended to be planted in the better soils, the crops planted more mid April onwards and into the heavier soils were those to emerge with less enthusiasm. We had our last field which was not planted until the last week of April due to waiting for the seed potatoes to arrive, the land had been cultivated and de-cloded ready. This unfortunately allowed the potato ridges to dry in the sun and wind and when we planted about 5 days later, it was very dry and dusty and no moisture left at all, this area only emerged around mid June around 4 to 6 weeks after the rest of the field, a bit worrying when it needs to be the first crop lifted.

  Winter wheat crops also began to show signs of stress during April/May with again those drilled into poorer soils or conditions exhibiting symptoms first. It was quite clear that crops were not producing as many tillers as normal, (the plant’s way of producing seeds and conserving what available moisture is available) crops became more open and when the ears developed these were not as big as normal, shortness of the height of the crop was also evident. This in turn had a knock-on effect to the grain trade and price rises started to occur again. I must say I thought last year saw variable prices in a volatile market but again we are seeing a lot of volatility with prices jumping or falling as much as £10.00 overnight. The return of Russia and Ukraine into the global wheat market following their disasters of last year did cause the markets to dip dramatically but the uncertainty in western Europe and the UK have kept the home markets from falling too far. What we do not want is a low yield of grains with a poor price as this prevents investment and growth which take time to recover from.

With the continuous dry weather during the normal fast growth period during April/May this is when agrochemicals are applied for weed and disease control along with nitrogen fertlisers during rapid growth and yield. Concerns are that nitrogen would not be absorbed by the roots as well due to very dry soil and although nitrogen granules appeared in most cases to dissolve they would not percolate through the dry soil to the active roots where they could be taken up. Weed chemicals have certainly not worked as well where crops have been short and thin which has allowed sun light through the canopy and weeds were stunted by some chemicals but sunlight has caused them to recover and they are now showing through the top of the crop. This could create a difficult harvest unless much glyphsate (roundup) is used beforehand. A few years ago a second weed spray would have been applied to prevent these weeds but we now have tighter control on application of certain chemicals and particularly with regard to harvest interval ( the time between application and harvest of the crop) and growth stage of the crop. Many of the weed sprays can now no longer be applied after the ear has emerged. Fungicides and insecticides have much closer Harvests intervals and in a wet year if you have not applied enough fungicides then your crop can be at risk of mycotoxin infections and risk rejection from the food chain, so double-edged sword for this one.

We are growing 35 acres of malting barley this season and the fat hen weeds were not killed by the weed spray as dry weather made them tougher to absorb the chemical. This has caused them to emerge above the crop in places looking slightly untidy. We will need to be very careful using roundup on malting barley as although it can be used it can prevent the seed from growing and for malting the maltster will require the barley to sprout so again another head scratcher. We need to remove the green weeds if we can as this will raise the moisture and contamination levels in the grain; our other option is to harvest on a really hot day, something we did not achieve last season.

Luckily we did decide to plant our chamomile herbs before we planted potatoes, the soil was silt and retained moisture very well; had we planted at the end of April I am sure we would have lost many plants and crop growth would have been stunted. We have a new variety this season (Flora Pleno) which is a sterile strain but should yield double our standard variety. The crop is also unusual in that it has what is termed a double flower type, it does not get as tall as the normal variety and again late weed control has been difficult with fat hen protruding this last two weeks, we have weed wiped and hoping for a good result, failing that we may top the weeds to prevent contamination/seeding.

German chamomile harvest has been completed and was some 10 days earlier than other years, the crop again produced less tillers so less flowers so more weeds protruding at harvest. Due to the weed base we may decide to remove these fields to bring about some weed control and return them to wheat before attempting another crop. English chamomile has started this week and will continue till August along with yarrow, hyssop and Melissa. We did yesterday start planting a new crop for us, we are trialling an acre of sage so that will be one to watch.

  Well at last the rains arrived in June and we did get some token volumes to freshen up and keep crops alive. The sugar beet was very thankful and we have seen some rapid growth in some crops recently following more substantial volumes, it is still very dry in some of the heavier potato fields and the rain has been passing through the soil structure as it it were a gravel bed, this indicates to me we are still in a deficit situation as far as moisture is concerned. The wheat harvest will not be as early as we first thought and the late rains are allowing good grain fill in the ear, we also suspect some nitrogen is still being taken up now it has rained and protein levels could be good.

The dry weather has seen a big influx of aphids particularly into wheat and potato crops and some aphids resistant to the older insecticides are evident causing us to switch insecticides to control these serious pests. Disease pressure has not been too bad although rusts in wheats like hot dry weather and where fungicides were not applied to small missed areas the effect is quite clear, green leaf completely killed.

On the nature front, we have huge large numbers of brown hares on the farm now and I just wonder whether there may have to be some culling this winter as numbers are quite high. Rabbits and pigeons have been the biggest problem this spring, pigeons again eating much rape and even sugar beet. I saw a lot of damage in a beet field only two weeks where pigeons had been grazing. Rabbits are everywhere, something I have never seen before, every yard or old site of buildings seem to be overrun with rabbits and of course crops have suffered with us losing around 2 acres of sugar beet in one location - plenty of rabbit shooting if any one likes rabbit stew!

Copyright: Text and photos © 2011
Ken Goodger and Welney News

Article from Welney News issue 82.
Plenty of robins, pied wagtails, wrens, sparrows, martins, swallows and even some kestrels nesting this year; we had one dilemma: a wren had nested in the chamomile harvester and we needed to collect crop from the fields before it spoiled so we decided to take the risk and see if we took the nest to the field and returning an hour later the mother would still feed the young; this worked and we returned the crop to the shed, had to park the harvester in a slightly different position to previous, to our delight the parents carried on feeding the young and did not seem bothered we had taken their young for a day trip. This happened for about 3 times a day for about a week until they left the nest one morning and were scattered around the distillery building while the parents kept them fed.

I can definitely comment we are capable of working with nature

Ken Goodger July 2011
back to top of page  website contents page any comments?  please e-mail webmaster