Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Shake Up your Wakeup!

As part of the HGCA's Shake Up Your Wake Up week we took the Overbury Grasshoppers out onto the farm to see where the raw ingredients for their breakfast cereals or toast start off.  It was a cold blustery start in the wheat fields, and it certainly woke all the children up, as well a healthy breakfast!
The field we looked at was a field of Invicta wheat which we are growing for Kellogg's.  The plants are very small at the moment due to the winter cold temperatures and low sunlight levels.  As spring warms up and the plant food is delivered they will soon start to grow.  After the field we headed to the grain store to look at the breakfast cereal making wheat we grew last year, to have a look at the raw ingredients that are milled and turned in great tasting breakfasts such as Bran Flakes, Sultana Bran, Fruit and Fibre, Minimax and Special K.  
The children certainly enjoyed getting handfuls of wheat and letting it run through their fingers, feeling the texture and the hardness of the small grains.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Wychall School Visit

A rather cold and windy day greeted the school children from Wychall School in Birmingham as they visited the farm today.  However after the forecast on Friday we managed to stay outside all day, which was a bonus.  The children started off being split into 4 groups, the first looking at the vegetables being grown in the kitchen garden.  There isn't much at this time of year but a healthy supply of sprouts, cabbages, leeks and potatoes.  The second group called in at the green house and inspected the limes and flowers, from much warmer climates.  The third group came along with me to look at habitats and sheep.  Standing by the field entrance how many habitats could we see?  We easily spotted parkland trees, woodland, grassland, verges and a pond, a great game of eye spy.  The last group went to the Estate workshop to meet up with Alan and Simon to learn about the types of wood we use; and to make what, on the Estate and what a diverse natural material it is! The children all rotated around the four groups for an hour, with the movement keeping everyone warm! 
After a very hearty soup, made with vegetables the children saw earlier in the day growing in the kitchen garden and a warm up in the village hall; it was off in the coach to have a look at a field of Oilseed Rape.  Here we looked at the roots and earthworms, all helping to improve the soil and re-cycle the previous crop material.  Apart form someone falling over in the mud, everyone had a great day out and headed back to Birmingham with the fresh air filling their lungs. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

Interest In Cover Cropping

In the run up to Christmas I hosted almost 100 farmers on three different visits to look at the Cover Crop trials that we planted back in August and September.  The seed was generously supplied by Kings and used in a trial to look at the benefits and costs of using cover crops in the farm rotation. Cover crops have only recently come to my attention through my Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust award to look at increasing wheat yields n the UK.  Although we have been using turnips and forage rape for years as a sheep feed through the winter period, there is so much more a cover crop can deliver other than feeding ewes or lambs through the winter.  The cover crop idea has also sprung into life as they can count towards Ecological Focus Areas (EFA's) in the the new Common Agricultural Policy.  In total we have planted 11 different mixes or single variety species to see what benefits or negative effects can be measured..
Paul Brown (above) from Kings, demonstrating the tap rooting ability of radishes to push down into the soil to break up compaction caused by farm machinery.  The ability of all of the mixes to scavenge for nitrogen and phosphate that would otherwise be lost from the field is tremendous, and if your include vetches into the mix their ability to fix nitrogen form the atmosphere is staggering.  The plot of straight vetch analysed at over 30% protein and was holding over 200Kg/Ha of nitrogen that will be available for the following crop!  Species in the various mixes included, mustard, forage rye, vetch, radish, oat, berseem clover, phacelia, buckwheat and linseed.  The mixes have been assessed by NIAB as part of our Kellogg's Origins Group, looking at ways in which we can farm in a more environmentally and financially sustainable way.

The crops certainly tick all of those boxes by: intercepting sunlight through the autumn and winter, turning it into carbon (plant matter) to improve soil organic matter levels (when decomposing); help remove compaction by aggressive rooting; locking up nutrients that would otherwise be washed through the soil into the environment; provide valuable late season pollen and nectar sources (bees using ours until November), provide a nutritious balanced diet for overwintering stock: stabilise and protect the soil surface from heavy rainfall events.  It is almost all positive effects form these crops bar the creation of a lovely slug habitat.  This will need watching and monitoring through the winter and into the drilling period to keep on top of the slippery problem!