Friday, 22 December 2006

Farewell USA

The trip is over :-(

What an experience, the highlights would have to be the assembly lines of the tractors and the harvesters. The precession technology and machining, the testing and evaluations (on each machine) and the way it all came together, each one built to its own specification. We even mastered the John Deere wave, a sort of masonic handshake, very privileged and one that might come in handy should we need to purchase a tractor or combine in the future, extra discount I think!

We left Chicago airport with all of our luggage, the reunion was emotional to say the least! We were all over weight (not just in baggage terms, too many steaks) but BA did not seem to bothered! We were also upgraded to business class with certain privileges, like the lounge area (we left 1hr late) and the extra leg room. Could you tell we had been upgraded? Yes 7 grinning faces all beaming out in the business area.

We even landed and collected a full set of bags, the fog by then wasn't too bad and we departed Heathrow in time to get back home for lunch. I wouldn't want to be there now!

The view is from the John Hancock tower, it was stunning to say the least!

This was the view from Bredon Hill, just by the tower looking south along the ridge. The whole vale was in fog and still is now. It was a stunning view, hills popping out like Islands in the sea, glad to be home.............

You bet!

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Tractor Factory

Waterloo on Tuesday saw us arrive meeting up at the Tractor Factory where the 7000, 8000 and 9000 series tractors are built. Each of us has one of these tractors so it was good to see them being built and how mach effort goes in behind the turning of the key.

All the tractors are built to order and come along the production line as chassis, before the transmission and engines, (made at the previous visited factories) are all bolted on. The final tractors roll off after rigourous testing before being transported all over the world. Deere also make engines for marine, construction, irrigators, generators and gas powered engines for school buses and garbage trucks. We have located most of our baggage, one piece is still missing although all the rest is still at Chicago airport. The smart money is on Ben Tallis returning without his bags!

The Home of John Deere

No pictures for the time being but we've had a whistle stop tour of JD Headquarters, and then the Harvester Factory. This was followed by a trip to Waterloo (last night) early bed and then a trip to Engine Works, Transmission Works and then the highlight of the trip at the Tractor Factory. It was as clean as a doctors surgery, clinical, technical, automated and very sophisticated.

Our luggage has also arrived in the US, it's still 200miles away and we hope to pick it up in time to write some new tags and send it back to Heathrow! We do now have a complete new wardrobe, which may or may not be a good thing!

Here's the first picture. It is taken as you can see at the HQ of John Deere. We stopped here briefly for lunch and a look around the demonstration area before visiting the Harvest Works.
This is how it all started, John Deere originated as a manufacturer of plough shares, not tractors. The company purchased a small firm making the 'Water Loo Boy' tractors and the rest is history. Here we all are standing in the Moline gift shop with one of the few remaining 'Waterloo Boy' tractors.
Well the long drive back to Chicago will take most of the day then we have to do battle with BA about the retrieval of our luggage! (Oh and the compensation, after all we're in America now!)

Monday, 18 December 2006

There's something about Mary!

Goodness me, after a heavy night in Jack's bar, (owned by Mary) I've not had a hangover like this one for a long time! After drinking, Cherry bombs, Apple Pies, Godfathers, Slippery Nipples, TVR's, Alabamer Slammers, Red Slammers, Rumplemans and American's, we decided to call it a night in Moline! Here's us on the way out before we knew our luggage was AWOL! Good old British Airways! The air stewardess' keep turning up, saw them 4 times in Chicago.

Today we go to the John Deere combine factory to start the tour, seems like we've been on the beers for a week. At least we're all having fun and getting to know each other and the various drinking haunts over this part of the USA. The heads are banging a bit this morning but yesterday when I woke up I took a walk along Navy Pier in Chicago, here's the view from the hotel window

What a beautiful city, the sky Line, the people, every-one willing to help (and be tipped!) but helpful none the less, our service industry could learn a thing or two. Well must dash the bus is leaving so I'll update next time I'm near a computer!

Here's the view from Navy Pier looking east toward the Hancock Tower, what a view and what a view and what a bracing wind off Lake Michigan, truly brilliant. People were up fishing for Perch off the pier, waiting to the migration of the 'jumbo Perch' into the harbour, I didn't See many over 6" long but that's a fisherman's tale!

The Windy City!

It's 19.00hrs and we left Chicago two and a half hours ago. We arrived as part of a group of farmers looking at the John Deere factories in Moline and Waterloo. We arrived safetly enough in O'Hare airport (Chicago) our luggage however was nowhere to be seen! 7 guys in the same clothes for 48hrs was not a pretty site or smell!

Today should have been present shopping in Chicago instead we were hunting pants, socks, trousers, shirts and toothpaste amoungst other things! We did manage a few beers whilst watching the Chicago Bears play NFL at home against Tampa Bay and we had more beef, Angus and very tender!

This blog comes from Moline, in the heart of John Deere country. The business part of the tour starts tomorrow, right now we are heading of to find the nighlife and some more steaks. I will try and post some pictures soon.

Friday, 15 December 2006

Tree Roots and Muddy Boots

A few dry winters and we all get complacent about our drainage only to be bitten on the bum when it rains and rains and rains! Here's Gordon with a few holes, most filled with water, unblocking a land drain. The problem, tree and hedge roots that have grown into the drains over the years seeking out moisture and nutrients!
The drain runs along the hedge-line in which we have left Ash saplings un-cut to grow up through the hedge to provide perches, nesting facilities, song posts and as they mature habitats for insects and beetles bugs and creepy crawlies.

The hedge is about 15 years old and is nicely maturing now but it was planted over the drain line. It could just be a small blockage by the tree or we might have further explorations back up the line of the drain.

Cass, the dog, came out to offer an expert opinion and decided that the water was not too cold for a swim! She is mad.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Tup Tastic Talent!

No this is not a new wheeze by the rams to attract the 'ladies' but the remains of the crayon held in the 'raddle' used to identify which of the ewes have been mated. We change the colour every week so that we know roughly when each ewe will lamb. The Rams have just finished this years mating and are now off for a well earned rest! There are 20 rams who should have serviced about 1000 ewes, that's 50 each! These ewes will start lambing in April.

Some of the boys saw action in September mating for the early ewe flock of 150 ewes. These were scanned last week, the first time we have scanned our ewes. Of the 150, 15 didn't mate, 10 mated and then aborted, (we will blood samples these to find out why) 36 will have singles, 83 will have twins and 6 will have triplets! Busy times in February for Todd and me. The ewes will be feeding on silage (conserved grass) and turnips on Bredon Hill between now and just before they are ready to lamb. The triplets and the twins will be housed so that we can feed them a bit more, but the singles will stay out until the very last minute.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Which one to pick?

Today saw the second draw (selecting procedure) of lambs who have been grazing the stubble turnips and forage rape since November1st. Henry has helped the last two times to weigh and grade the lambs to find out which ones are ready. They need to weigh about 45kg when they are alive to then weigh about 21kg when they have been killed. Henry and Todd (our shepherd) feel the amount of muscle and fat that each sheep has on its back, ribs and tail to make sure it will be the correct size and weight for the market! This time we picked out over 200 from the group of 900 lambs but they were not quite heavy enough! We will have to check them all again next week.

The price is low at the moment only about £2.30/kg. This makes a lamb worth about £45/head. This retails over £135 in the super-markets. We have also bought a new set of scales to increase the accuracy of weighing as we do not get paid for any extra weight over 21Kg; that bit goes in for free!

Monday, 11 December 2006

Farm Sunday 10th June 2007

Just some advanced warning about LEAF Farm Sunday on Sunday 10th June 2007! I have just booked the trailers from Robbie's farm at Over
I have hired two this time to target 224 people this year! (or a few more if demand is there)
Do book early as last year we ran out of spaces. There will be some static stalls and demonstrations at the village hall in Overbury. You will have to ring the office on 01386 725111 to book your valuable seat.
If there are any potential sponsors out there, don't be shy! Any volubteers to sponsor the porta-loos?

Top Guns!

Saturday saw a motley crew of men and dogs meeting promptly at Kemerton a pheasant shoot. The guns came from far and wide, all invited and all relishing the challenge!
I drew the peg (stand) next to William Fox ,(AKA- by the end of the day Tail Gunner Foxy). Our aim was to try and shoot each others birds and drop them at the respective guns feet! The tally was close until the last drive when my adrenaline overtook my limited shooting ability! I missed the lot leaving them to the mercy of the tail gunner!!
After much merriment and mickey taking we retired to The Crown in Kemerton for supper and a few drinks! Guinness and Bass aided the conversation, which inevitably got around to farming, energy crops, and of course shooting! Each bird shot today was remembered and talked about with enjoyment. Thoughts turned to the game birds we had seen that day, mallard, partridge, pheasant, wigeon, teal and woodcock. Only pheasants and partridge were in our sites but the environment created for wildlife was emense! Areas of water, woodland (young and old), grassland, arable land all hosting diverse wildlife, brilliant. All these habitats need managing; people to manage them with care and an eye on the next 100 years of shooting.

Friday, 8 December 2006

A Local 'E' Shop

Today saw the start for me of our 'Fresher By Miles' campaign. It is an internet based website promoting locally produced food directly from the farmer! All within a 30mile radius of Badsey in Worcestershire.

This is me showing our lamb at the Camden Food Research site at Chipping Camden. The idea is to get people involved at their places of work, where their food can be delivered! (Yes that is a tie!)

Local, sustainable, far fewer road miles, quick, easy and fresh, can it tick any more boxes? We need you to buy local, buy from the village shops, from the farm shop or the farmers market, you will benefit by having food that has flovour and taste and texture. We will benefit with increased revenue for our business which you can then enjoy with the maintained views as you use the footpaths, bridleways enjoying the lovely countryside. It only looks as it does now because it has been managed that way by generations of farmers.

Farmers Are Outstanding In Their Field!

If you think farmers are always driving tractors or mucking out the yards, think again! This week has been hectic but good fun! Today I met a group of 'Smart' Farmers looking at how to grow more Oilseed Rape by using different techniques. These range from the best cultivation methods (planting) to sowing the right number of seeds (drilling) and the right fungicides needed to control 'Phoma' or Stem Canker, a very serious disease!

Soon I will be called 'Farmer Sheik' instead of 'Farmer Jake' as we grow more and more crops for energy! By 2010 we will need to double the area of Oilseed Rape grown in the UK if we are to meet the governments target of 5% inclusion of 'biofuels' in bio-diesel! Where will that area come from, when we need it for food production and what will happen to the price of food?

Who eats 'Walkers' crisps with the 'sunoil' in them? That oil is a mixture of oils squeezed from sunflowers, the 'sun' bit and Oilseed rape, the 'Oil' bit. It's a new variety of rape called 'Splendor' and has high levels of transfats which make it a healthy frying option. This can and is being used by the burger giants to fry up the burgers! So when you next open a packed of Salt 'n' Lineker crisps, think of the fields of yellow that you see in May which are surprisingly contributing to your crisps!

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Sunnier Times

Looking out of the window seeing sleet coming down, machinery being put away for the winter always makes me think back to the summer and what we were upto! This picture was taken on Bredon Hill, where the farm is, and is of me. Just about the time the Oilseed rape was being planted. Shorts only then, today leggings, wellies, hat and thick coat. It seems as if the seasons blur into one another as we hurtle past in our busy lives. It's just nice to take a moment and reflect on what has been achieved since the summer.
Crops planted, hedges cut, ditches maintained and cleaned out to allow road water to escape. Shooting season underway, small songbirds migrating into and out of the wild bird covers we plant. Its not a real winter yet, will we see a real winter again? Who knows but we hope to be there to rise to the challege as every season is so different to us.
We are embarking on a new project It is a web site that is effectivley a farmers market, providing local fresh food, grown by known farmers and delivered to places of work to collect on your way home. We'will see how that goes, co-operation has never been a farmers forte' times are a changing!

LEAF Farmers in Full Voice

Well, where do I start! A big thank you to Heather and Phil Gorringe of Wiggly Wigglers who hosted a group of LEAF Farmers on their farm on the 5th Dec. The passion for demonstrating to the general public and the love of their farm and business was SO refreshing! Here we all are looking at the sunflowers that Phil grew this harvest. These are now for sale and garden birds will love 'em!

LEAF farmers are different in that we welcome people onto our farms in organised groups, to show and tell people how farms work, how our countryside works and how to communicate with the general public, hence my inspiration from Heather to start this blog. You can find out more about LEAF on E-mail Roly he's a star! Don't forget 'Farm Sunday' on the 10th June 2007, check out the website to find your nearest 'open farm'