Monday, 27 June 2011

Keeping H2O Low with LEAF

Last thursday I had a brilliant day with other members of the Carling Wester Growers Group at a special training day organised by LEAF  The training day was to bring to our attention the impact of water on our farms and how much we rely on this precious resource.  The aim of the day was to raise awarness of water and how it impacts our business and what we can do to try and reduce its impact.  In my farming career I have witnessed both ends of the scale when it comes to water impact.  On the 20th July 2007 we had over 140mm of rain in 24 hours and this spring (Mar-May) we only had 53mm of rain.  The discussion, lead by Caroline Drummond, from LEAF, Louise Manning (LJM Associates) and Andrew Galloway (Masstock Arable (UK) Ltd soon had us discussing in depth, the problems of too much or too little water and its effects on our livestock, crops and the environment.  We discussed how to keep water in the fields, by using minimum tillage to keep trash on the surface to slow down the run-off and reduce risk.  Correctly cultivating the fields allows water to slowly seep into the soil, hard compacted layers mean the water can't soak in and rushes off the surface taking fertiliser, soil particles and pesticides with it into the nearest watercourse.  We spoke about ways to reduce these risks, buffer strips to intercept running water, tramline placement, gate placement, stock watering areas and a whole list of other options available.  Some of these options can be put towards Stewardship Schemes or will count towards the Campaign for the Farmed Environment

We looked at weather data, demonstarting how our climate is changing, with reduced sunshine hours and increased volitility in rain fall events.  We listened to Louise talking about her trips to California where they are running out of groundwater and what's left is becoming saline.  Peru and other countries are going to run out of water (in some areas) in the next 30 years or so.  Countries exporting salad crops, potatoes and vegetables are in effect exporting water and what impact will this have in the future?

After a great walk around the farm looking at sprayer technology, machinery, irrigation we ended up with a spade in a barley field.  The idea was to dig down and try and find any problems with the soil structure that might hinder roots or water from getting into the soil, alais we found none. (Well done Ed).

The next stage of our training is to have a go at the LEAF Water Management Tool, an on-line assessment that looks at: water distrubution around the farm, irrigation, crop protection products, cleaning and transport of product, protecting water quality and domestic water facilities.  Following on from this we will be meeting again, after harvest, to find out how we have all got on, and what changes we have made to our business' as a result of the training.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Orchid Identification

Up on the western edge of Bredon Hill there is an area managed under Stewardship. Derek and Gordon have been changing the hunting gates and they spotted hundreds of orchids amongst the grassland. They look absolutely stunning but I don't know what they are called.

Can anybody enlighten me?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, 17 June 2011

Our Countryside Comes to Life

Yesterday the Estate held it's bi-annual Countryside Foundation For Education day.  It is a great day out for our local schools getting their children out onto a real farm to see exactly what happens.  The groups of about 20 children had 8 different 'stands' to look at.  The groups rotated around the stands having about 20 minutes at each one.  I was looking after the farm machinery section where we told the children how we grow, feed, look after and then harvest our crops.  We started with the Topdown, followed by the drill, fertiliser, sprayer combine and finally the grain cart.  After my stand the children moved on the visit Paul, Rod and Tom, (our keepering team) where they got a taste of the good, the bad and the ugly in the countryside.  Many frozen animals that had been trapped over the past year came out of the freezer to play their part in the tale.  the highlight being the unveiling of a newly hatched pheasant!  The kitchen gardens handled the next stand looking at growing vegetables, and why they are good for us, how they are grown and what pests can attache the unaware gardener.  The final stop off was to visit the stable where we had a couple of sheep with their (not so small) lambs and Suzanne who was spinning wool.  This was a real hit with the children to actually see the fleece being spun in to a usable fibre.
After a well deserved lunch break under the watchful eye of the combine the children headed off for another round of stands.  First up was William from Frontier Agriculture who was talking about the crops grown on the farm and what they were turned into after they had been sold.  He had a helper making pancakes with some of the wheat grown on the farm. Toff Millway followed William throwing clay pots and talking about his favourite subject 'Food'!  This linked in well with the whole story of the day, how our food is grown where our food comes from and how we look after the countryside.  After Toff, Martyn and Alan did a talk about the estate woodland, how trees are managed and what our timber is used for on the Estate.  The final stand was with Roger Umpleby, known locally as 'The Bug Man' who had a collection of creepy crawlies that he had gathered under some logs in the wood over a few days prior to the event.
All in all the children had a great day, we just about remained dry, most of us kept our voices and the day was a great success.

Monday, 13 June 2011

A Successful Day, Dispite The Weather

Our first visitor for this years Open Farm Sunday event arrived in the drizzle just before 9am.  The tractors were polished, the trailers swept and the fields nicely mown.  After a slightly delayed start we headed off to The Overbury Stud where Simon Sweeting gave us a talk about the workings of a stud farm.  It was fascinating hearing about scanning mares to check for a pregnancy at 16 days.  We also saw a Brown Hare running across one of the fields, a great start to the trip.

Following on from Simon we had a talk from Dominc Swainson about the sprayer that we use to apply the pesticides and fertiliser to the fields.  We spoke about Integrated Farm Management and gave some exampled of how we use the philosophy at Overbury Farms to help with our decision making processes.  We learnt about the annual requirement to have an MOT type certificate through NSTS for each sprayer and the fact that the sprayer operators all had to be trained through NRoSO We also spoke about the amount of planning we need to complete before fertiliser is applied to each individual field and the records that are kept of each application.  This also contributed toward the farms accreditation to LEAF Marque of which we are very proud.
Our next station was to hear all about Bumble Bees and how they can help us with pollination of our crops.  Stuart Veall works for Syngenta and he came out with a small hive of bees which everyone found amazing.  It is hoped that another year we can have a couple of hives to help with our crop and margin pollination.  We parked next to a beetle bank with pollen and nectar strips adjacent to each other and explained further about the farms conservation plans and how we are increasing food and habitat for farmland birds, including Corn Buntings and Tree Sparrows.

William Fox (Frontier Agriculture) was on hand to complete the story about what happens to our crops when they leave the farm.  He told us about biofuels created from wheat and rape, Carling Beer made from our malting barley and even how beans are used in fish food as a protein source.  Apparently when crushed the beans are sticky and can hold minerals and other constituents of a ration together in the water for feeding to fish.  (Even Farmer Jake learnt something as well!).  After the last stop we came back down from the hill and thawed out a little before unloading a repeating the process again. 
We had such a lot of help on the day from Derek, Gordon, Graham and Tim for driving the tractors and getting the farm machinery in place; Tod, James and Harry, who looked after the livestock (sheep, chickens and a duck) and from Suzie and Kieren for setting up the gazebo and organising the lists and putting the packs together on the day.  Obviously a huge thanks to our speakers on the day and to those that braved the weather to show up and listen to what I believe makes British food the safest in the world, being produced sympathetically to our environment, by the best farmers in the world.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Getting The Job Wrapped Up

So far this year our silage making has been well timed and the sun and wind has helped dry out the cut grass nicely.  For the last two years I have been using a local contractor to come and do the baling and the wrapping.  Our old equipment means the whole team has to be turned out in order to get the job done.  Derek would be baling, a couple of people carting the bales back to the yard where they would be wrapped and then stacked.  Now with a little planning we can get Nigel to bale and wrap in one pass. 

He's actually using the same amount of fuel doing the two jobs at once than he was just doing the baling.  It helps our carbon footprint as farmers.  Tomorrow we will get the trailers out and carefully carry the bales back to the farm and stack them up.  We will treat them as eggs so that the plastic does not get ripped.  The plastic seals in the bale which turns anaerobic pickling the grass into silage or a slightly drier product more suited to sheep called hayledge.  The plastic will remain on the bales until they are used in the winter to feed the sheep.  Once removed the plastic is stored and then sent for re-cycling as part of our commitment to the environment as per the requirements for the LEAF Marque  Using two different colours of wrap the bales look like one of my favourite sweets, can you guess which ones?

Click HERE to the link of the baler/wrapper combo in operation, it really is an amazing bit of farm machinery