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Issue 127 December 2018
News from the Farm
your regular update from Nicholas
TheWeather
Don’t forget to put something for the birds on your Christmas shopping list - winter feeding is vital if the temperatures plunge’Nicholas Watts

November has been a month of above average temperatures and below average rainfall, 28mm or 1.1ins of rain fell here. If we had 3ins of rain in December it would bring us up to average for the year.

What's HappeningOn the farm
Growing Winter Wheat

As a farmer I can say, and probably most farmers in the East Midlands would agree with me in saying, that we have had a wonderful autumn. The grain harvest was brought in with very little disruption from the weather and then it rained so that the oil seed rape could be sown. The potato harvest started a bit too dry, but an inch of rain put that right and it was then moist enough for the winter wheat to start growing. It has continued dry, all the potatoes are harvested and sugar beet harvesting will go on for another month, but we have had so many fine days that nearly every farmer has finished his autumn work.

The land is in good heart and the winter wheat is all growing away. The last time we had such a good autumn, with wheat crops looking so well, was in 2011. 2012 was the worst wheat crop in living memory - it was a terrible summer and autumn, wet and no sunshine. We struggled to get the wheat harvest in, the potatoes up and the winter wheat sown, whilst there were large puddles in lots of fields. The following year ,in the second half of March 2013, was desperately cold, pigeons ate large areas of Oil Seed Rape and I remember saying that we couldn’t possibly have a good harvest in 2013. However, May and June were sunny months, the sunshine had come to our rescue and we had a brilliant harvest.
I am not saying we are going to have a terrible summer in 2019, but what I am saying is that for good combinable crops, we need sunshine in May and June.

How do we sell our produce and who do we sell it to?
Wheat and barley can be quite simple to sell. We can just pick the phone up and sell to any grain merchant, but it is not quite as simple as that. The price we are offered is connected to the world price of barley or wheat and usually we haven’t any idea whether the world price is going to go up or down. When we do know the price, we have to make the decision to either sell now or delay selling.

The merchant we might sell to has a better idea than we do because he is dealing in grain all day every day. The merchants run a ‘pool’ system, where we can say to them here is x number of tonnes for you to sell on our behalf, we then get the average price of the sales of a person who is dealing in grain every day of the year and so we should get a good average.
Farmers have many jobs to do and we are not hearing what the grain trade is doing every day. I say to them I shall compare your pool prices with the other merchants pool prices and if you are not above average you won’t be getting the chance to sell any of our wheat next year. We cannot put all our wheat in these pools as we don’t know exactly what we are going to harvest. If we have a bad harvest and we could not supply all the wheat we contracted to put in the pools, we would have to buy grain to make up the shortfall.

Fieldfare

As November has been warmer than usual, the birds in my garden have not been eating so much. Added to that, my wife has been doing some pruning. We had a leylandii bush next to a prickly bush and she said she wanted to take the leylandii out. I said that would be OK, but when I came back mid morning half of the prickly bush had been severely pruned as well. Before that there was the constant chatter of House Sparrows in daylight hours, now there isn’t a Sparrow to be seen in that area, so be careful how you do your pruning and garden overhauls.
As I went round the farm in Baston Fen on 10th November an amazing spectacle unfolded. As I approached the farm, there were 750 Fieldfares feeding on the hawthorn berries on the hedge that is never cut. Further on I could see a cloud of Lapwings which numbered around 2,000 and 800 Golden Plover with them, they were feeding on the invertebrates on the freshly ploughed land that had been sunflower fields and had been direct drilled with wheat. All the sunflower trash was on top of the soil and the invertebrates would have been coming up in the dark to feed on the trash. The Lapwings, with their large eyes, are normally more active looking for food at night, than in the day.

Fieldfares and the Plovers are always welcome on the farm, but also on the sunflower fields were 800 Rooks and Jackdaws and 1500 Starlings. They were digging into the soil for the last of the sunflowers that were spilt during harvest. Sometimes they would find a grain of growing wheat and that would get eaten as well.

With over 2,000 birds on the Baston Fen gravel pits and lakes, each finding a grain of wheat, our wheat crop is not now as thick as we would like it to be!

On another field near by, there were around 900 Grey Lag Geese nibbling away at the remains of our sugar beet crop that we had just harvested, fortunately they weren’t doing any harm this time. Their base is only a mile away and, as you can imagine, 900 Grey Lag Geese need a lot of food and they can sometimes do a lot of damage when they descend on a field.

Grey Lag Geese are feral geese, they do not migrate like the true wild ones and they have been increasing in numbers over the past 20 years. Their increase is due to them being able to rear a lot of young. Goslings feed on short grass and, as mowing grass has become so easy with ride on mowers, we do a lot of mowing during the summer and that provides the goslings with a surplus of food. Mallard have been declining in numbers because their ducklings need insects to grow up on and we are running short of insects.

Nominations for the 2019 BBC Radio 4 Farming Awards will soon be opening and some have suggested I should be entered for the Countryside Farming Hero. I would be delighted if you would like to vote for me, so do please keep listening to Radio 4 for the opportunity to do so.

The next Newsletter will be in January and so I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year and look forward to a bit of cold weather to bring more birds in our gardens.

TALKS & EVENTS

17th January 2019: Nuneaton and District Bird Watching Society
Talk on Farming and Wildlife
19th January 2019: Vine House Farm Winter Bird Watch
Tickets on sale now, £5 each
23rd January 2019: National Trust , Peterborough & Stamford Branch
Talk on Farming and Wildlife