News from the Field - Feb 2017
I’m going to start this month’s article like a typical farmer – by talking about the weather.
As I sit down to write the weather remains unseasonably mild and dry, which is a bit different from last winter. Whether the cold, wet weather we usually see will ever arrive this season will, as always, remain to be seen but for now we are making the most of it.
What this has meant is that we have managed to make good progress with our winter jobs and we have completed the planting of around 6,000 Christmas tree saplings. Each year we try to plant around 6 new trees for every tree that has been cut down, ensuring that our tree sales operation is sustainable and that we have plenty of choice for customers in the future. What you might not realise is that Christmas trees take some time to grow – it will be 2025 at the earliest before the saplings we’ve just planted are ready to be sold as 6ft trees!
We have also been shaping and pruning the other Christmas trees in our plantation, and have moved any waste trees into the woods to create wildlife habitats.
Meanwhile, our Shropshire sheep are currently enjoying a change of scenery as they roam in the parkland to eat the grass down out there, and they will return to their usual home in the plantation once the grass starts growing in the spring.
For arable farmers like us, this time of year is all about preparing for the busy growing season ahead. The farm workshop is, therefore, particularly busy as we service and repair machinery to make sure that it is as reliable as possible for the year ahead. For example, our crop sprayer has had its MOT and a thorough check over to ensure that it is properly calibrated and working safely.
On wet days, I am busy in the office, catching up on paperwork and updating crop records and financial costings so that we can plan future cropping and crop sales. Planning ahead is interesting in the current political climate, with the uncertainty over Brexit and the impact that it might have on currency and international trade – both factors that can have a significant impact on crop prices. We shall watch with interest.
We are also in the process of applying lime to several fields in readiness for sowing spring barley. Over time the pH (acidity) of the soil changes and lime is used to help reduce that acidity, ensuring optimum conditions in which our crops can grow. Like all our other inputs, we apply lime using GPS-controlled equipment that works from soil maps to apply variable rates of lime depending on the requirements of the soil in different parts of the field. We have around 50 acres of spring barley to sow and this is already destined for the brewing market – it will be used to brew light ales once it is harvested in the summer.
Martin Hodgson, Farm Manager