Saturday, 21 May 2011

Is The Grass Greener with Sainsbury's?

On Thursday the 19th May we hosted the Sainsbury's Lamb Steering Group Meeting at Overbury.  The group started about a year ago and this was the first on-farm meeting which was a real pleasure to host.  There were about 9 others farmers from all corners of the UK and even Northern Ireland, all farming different systems and producing lamb in different ways, all dedicated to supplying Sainsbury's.  In addition there were people from Randall Parker Foods and Dunbia who are the processors for the producers lamb (We supply RPF- via the Mayhill Lamb Group).  The day started with an update on JS lamb sales over the past year, then we moved onto an update of the Carbon Footprint assessment.  This is the largest study ever conducted assessing the carbon involved with producing lamb.  More about that another day.  After that I did a presentation about Overbury Farms, what we do, how we do it and why.  I talked about our crops, conservation, staff, machinery and then our sheep.

Following on from me was Bob Bevan from AB Sustain who was teaching us about grassland management. 

One of the interesting things learnt from the JS Dairy Group was the attention to detail of grassland management and how carbon emissions and therefore cost can be reduced by better grassland management.  This conversation carried on over a working lunch before heading out to the field for a tractor and trailer ride around the farm.  We looked at 8 fields in total, starting with a hay field, then a silage fields then various permanent pasture fields ending up on the top of Bredon Hill, where Alice and Annie had their photograph taken as shown here!
It was a really good meeting, I felt that a lot had been achieved and there was plenty of conversation within the group.  There is a definite opportunity to explore the grassland management here at Overbury, starting this summer with some over-seeding in a couple of fields.

Following the meeting we did a short bit of filming for the JS website all about the Carbon Footprinting and how we are benefiting by working together.  That should be on the website under the Coorporate Responsibility tab on the 7th June.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Farm Update

The last couple of months have been a difficult time on the farm with unprecidented low levels of rainfall during two important months.  At the start of March we were all very delighted with the dry spell of weather, great for spring barley drilling, potato planting and of course for lambing.  As the weeks rolled on and the temperatures rose the light arable land really started the run out of water.  Fertiliser that we had applied just sat on the surface so crops were unable to use the nitrogen and insect pests were multiplying in the warm spring sunshine.  Our newly planted trees, both in the orchards and the elm trees, required watering in order to keep them alive!  Once started this job will need to carry on but with the investment in the trees we have to keep the going.  Irrigation has been intense on the salad onion crops and today we have started on the potatoes.  Our rainfall for March was only 8.6mm (driest in 60yrs) and April was even less at 5.4mm (long term average for April is 49.5mm)

The large cracks opening up in the fields are usually only seen in the summer months and this photograph was taken in mid April!  It just goes to show how the weathers unpredictability impacts on our farming systems.  As a rule our climate is not used to weather changes like this.  Other areas of the world, like Australia and America, would expect these droughts much more often than us.  It will be a very interesting season as it progresses, just what will the effects be on yields and quality be?  It is still a long way to go but with the final leaves out in wheat crops (visible in April) 3 weeks ahead of usual there must be an affect, at the very least an early harvest.
Last weekend the rain arrived giving a very welcome 24mm.  This rain was the right kind of rain, silly statement you all scream but it was gentle and warm.  This gave it time to actually soak into the ground rather than run-off taking fertiliser with it into the nearest water course.  The situation had eased slightly but more rain will be required to get these crops to harvest, and it might even have come too late for our malting barley, which is looking thinner and thinner.