This winter has been pretty unremarkable with no extremes of wind, rain, snow or temperatures. The result is that land has been soaking wet since early November and has not dried one iota. Thoughts of sowing Spring Barley in mid-February have been forgotten but a week or so of fine weather could soon bring things round - the days are getting longer by about 4 minutes per day and the is more heat from the sun as it rises higher in the sky.

Walking round all the fields today, the sun was shining and the air temperature was 9°C, it seemed as if the birds had decided spring was here. Every Skylark was high in the air singing at maximum volume, Pheasants cocks were showing off to the hens, and I even saw some Tree Sparrows flying with nesting materials in their bills. Lovely as that is, and I'm not being pessimistic here, March can be a very nasty month. Here on the north-east coast, very cold, wet winds can blow in from Scandinavia carrying moisture from the North Sea, making life very unpleasant for any animal or bird that may have young mouths to feed.

The mild weather has been beneficial to the crops, which in general, are looking well. The winter barley and wheat was drilled into good seedbeds and the weather was good enough to allow good establishment of plants. OSR however was, in the main, sown too late and did not grow sufficiently befor the soil temperature dropped. The reason for this was that Winter Barley is the least profitable crop on the farm but provides an early sowing spot for OSR (15th - 30th August). This year I tried to sow after spring barley, (harvested on the 5th September) on the 9th September. Although the plants are small, with some TLC in spring they should make a decent crop. I have not used any insecticides since 2009 (my choice) and thought that a natural balance was being restored. However there was a fairly severe attack by Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle (CSFB)at the cotyledon stage which reduced the plant population too. Also, by trying to reduce my usage of molluscicides, slugs have had an effect on growth. Lesson learned - don't drill late!

All the produce from harvest 2016 has been sold and there was a surge of collections between Christmas and New Year with delivery to the bio-ethanol plant in Teesside. Since then, one or two loads per week have been lifted for animal feed. The prices are slightly better than last year (and forecast) primarily because of the UKP exchange rate. I get the impression, from several sources, however that many farmers are still selling wheat very close to the cost of production with a good percentage below.

The Renault 616 tractor is now 12 years old and I was thinking of changing it if the opportunity arose, but it seems machinery price inflation is rampant and to change would cost well over £50,000 (about 400 tonnes of wheat!) which in the present climate is a non starter. I like the tractor as it is comfortable to drive and does all I expect from it. It also has fewer electronic controls and automation than newer machines making it more reliable and cheaper to run. It also has no emission controls, so uses less fuel. It has just had a major service so I hope it will continue to be reliable for another few years.

There was a small problem in the autumn - the plough beam snapped in half. A replacement had to came from Europe which took two weeks, by which time the field were getting wet. It took about a day to fit the new beam and all the furrows. I took the opportunity to repace several pins, bolts and bushes which were worn.

Plough Repairs Plough Repairs Plough Repairs Plough Repairs Plough Repairs
The Break The break with beam removed. Removing the beam Bare furrows Work complete.