For 2013 the main topic, as usual, has to be the weather. The year started off very wet and cold - a legacy of 2012, and then proceeded to get colder with March being one of the coldest on record. April was below average but not exceptional and things brightened up in June and July. By the time August came round, we were ironically in a drought situation and crops suffered at the final fence. Unsurprisingly Winter Barley and Winter wheat yields were down, but Spring Barley, sown after the bad weather in spring was the star of the show. Canola (OSR) seemed to thrive on the hot dry weather and recovered to give slightly above average yields.

Fortunately the settled weather continued through until October which gave, on the whole, good harvest and re sowing conditions. The best performing wheat was again 'Robigus' which, after drying, weighed in just on my 5 year average. 'Consort' which was all second wheat (wheat grown after wheat) was below average, but some of the fields were badly flooded last autumn and never fully recovered. The winter barley variety was 'Florentine' and this was below average having suffered severe tiller loss in March when low temperatures and strong easterly winds shredded the plants. As said, the spring barley, some sown in March and some in April performed extremely well and actually out yielded the winter crop. The Canola which was all 'Excalibur' was just above average.

View from the combine - loading the trailer. The hired 'muck' spreader. Desiccating Canola.

With the dry soil conditions at harvest, there was no soil damage and also cultivations could follow directly behind the baler. Almost all the straw was baled by a neighbour who takes straw and returns manure from his beef and sheep farm. This enables me to apply over 50 tonnes/ha of manure to 20 ha every year. This is not as much as I would like but I'm sure it is much greater than the average farm. The effect of this are quite apparent for a few years following application. Whist on the subject of soil, about 150 tonnes of Calcium Lime was applied to several fields to adjust the ph to the optimum value for crops. A contractor was used who has GPS receivers on the spreading tractor and hence is able to ascertain his position within a few inches. A map is generated of each field from soil sampling results to show areas of high and low ph. From this map, a spreading diagram can be created and loaded into the GPS unit on the spreader and variable rates of lime are then applied across the field so that the correct amount is deposited where required. Some fields varied from zero to 6 tonnes/ha. The 'old' method was to acreage soil samples of a field and then blanket apply a certain a mount of lime (generally 5t/ha) to correct the worst parts of the field, which led to over application of the better parts. The system I use is operated by 'SOYL' and we sample every three years for ph, P (Phosphate), K (potassium) and Mg (Magnesium) with spreading maps being created annually for P & K applications.

Map of ph Values. Full Page of ph, P, K & Mg Maps. Wheat tipped in the grain drier intake.

Several wet spots in fields became apparent in 2012 and these were marked by GPS and then after harvest this year, some drain repairs or replacement were carried out to rectify the problem. One particular field which is beside the river and is virtually at sea level historically has a wet area of about 2 acres where crop is generally lost to standing water during winter. The chance was taken this year to drain this area to a sump and from this lead a larger pipe to the river. We shall see if this works as the field was recently completely flooded during an exceptionally high tide. A large tide is considered to be 4.7 to 5.0 metres - this one was just over 6.0m.

Cultivations and sowing went according to plan as there were very few days when some kind of fieldwork could not be accomplished. The canola was drilled a few days early on 18th August, but after last year early was better than late. Consequently the plants have grown well and are well prepared for a winter. Herbicides were applied, but no insecticides were necessary in spite of the warm weather. The variety sown is again Excalibur, which has performed well in recent years.

Min-Tilling with a 'Sumo Trio'. Ploughing with 5 x 420mm furrows. Sowing winter wheat.

The cereals were drilled in better conditions than expected and more land than normal was 'Min-tilled' but that which was ploughed came up well in spite of lying wet for over a year. Seed rates varied between 170kg/ha on early sown land to 205kg/ha on the later rougher fields. All has emerged, had an application of herbicide, and some has had P & K fertiliser - on the whole, crops are looking very well. The varieties sown this year are: Winter Barley - Florentine - a lower acreage, just enough to establish Canola next year. Winter Wheat - Robigus, Leeds, Consort and Grafton - mainly soft wheats for distilling in Scotland.

There is a very small field adjacent to the farm steadiing which I have kept as my personal 'nature bit'. When it has been cropped not all the field has been sown and many experiments without herbicides have been performed. it was in setaside for many years which led to it's current use. About 1.5 (0.7 ha) acres is sown with plants such as mustard, rye, spring wheat, millets etc to provide food for small birds during winter. This has been a great success as Goldfinches and Linnets, which were very rare birds here, have now established themselves and large flocks descend daily to feed. During winter feeders are also placed adjacent to hedges with supplementary feed of wheat, oats, millets and sunflower seed. A similar are has been sown with 'old fashioned' grasses enhanced with wild flowers, which again looks very pretty but encourages numerous insects, birds and mammals. A strip down one side has been planted with trees, mainly for shelter but with obvious benefits too. It shows that the various environmental schemes forced on farmers do not necessarily work countrywide - for a few hundred pounds per year I can look after this small field which is teeming with local wildlife. No expensive 'consultants' or 'advisors' required. Which brings me to the SFP (Single Farm Payment) which is a payment to European farmers to make up for having to sell below cost of production due to market manipulation by governments. This appears to have mutated into a 'Rural Fund' which our government has decided it can take 12% for other rural projects. The expectation is that we will continue to grow less and less as more 'greening' takes place ( I think my farm is a fairly green place already, especially compared with the centre of, say, London), but we will also do it for less income. Once again, those of us who run the smaller family farms who already benefit the environment are penalised by a bureaucracy desperate to grab any little bit of cash they can.

Winter wheat just emerging. 15/10/2013 Wild bird food plot (left), 'meadow' (centre), Free range hens (right). Oilseed Rape 09/10/2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!