By Dr Keith Dawson

The harvest proceeds apace here in Ukraine, with barley completed and combines well through the oilseed rape and into the wheat now.

Although the harvest was catchy a fortnight ago, the recent weather has been kinder and good progress has been made of late.

Winter barley yields finished just shy of seven tonnes per ha, but the much lower area of spring barley just outperformed it. The new winter barley hybrid, Hobbit, has performed well and despite our liking for home saved seed, it will find a bigger area for the autumn drilling just over four weeks away.

There is no doubt the fungicide Aviator has worked its barley magic yet again and crops were clean right up to harvest, with two 40% doses and an adjuvant, despite the high rhyncho and netblotch pressure late on.

The oilseed rape’s average yields have dropped back a little from the early results, reflecting the difficult harvest conditions which delayed the combine past the optimal timing.

Inspection of post-harvest stubbles showed little stem disease or stem weevil damage. We have seen sclerotinia in a few fields of soya, which is a worrying sign with soya, rape and potatoes in the rotation.

These are all susceptible crops and even if they cause little yield loss, they multiply up the soil residing sclerotia, which patiently await the next susceptible crop to pounce on and cause havoc! A warning sign.

The early wheats are not exciting as most were drilled rather late in wet conditions due to a severe outbreak of bad weather at drilling time last autumn.

Like most farmers in Ukraine, we failed to hit our wheat area targets and crops had very limited tillering going into the winter, where plants were vulnerable. Despite working minor ‘miracles’ with early N and PGR combinations, we were still shy of optimum ear populations in many crops.

As in the barley, the spring wheat has so far done as well as the winter crop. This is a ‘spring-sown crop season’ and the weather has suited both light land and spring crops this year.

Rain has come at just the right time for the beet and potatoes and we are hopeful of good yields. Potato prices do not look promising in Europe, but blight has had its impact here on the domestic smallholder crop.

We are hopeful of a bounce in the potato price come harvest and beyond, hoping investment of storage will pay dividends once more.

There has been a lot of debate on land reform in the Ukrainian parliament. Regular readers will know there has been a moratorium on agricultural land sales for many years, even between Ukrainians.

This has been to stop land grabs by oligarchs, Ukrainian or Russian, as well as foreign investors. This has worked in favour of the villagers and foreign investors so far.

The latter could farm a greater area and not tie up limited capital in land value, whilst being protected by long term leases and a ‘right to buy’ if and when the moratorium ever ended.

It also protected the village smallholders from land based ‘pirates’, whilst providing a guaranteed annual rental income. This amalgamation of a 100 one ha plots to make one larger 100ha field has not been without major bureaucratic issues surrounding registration of rental agreements and the land itself.

This hassle has created a valuable asset of amalgamated registered land with a guaranteed right to buy. The land reform required to allow land purchases is a hot topic currently, as the IMF has stipulated this as one of the conditions for new loans to the government and rescheduling of existing debt. ‘When’, is the big question!

Meanwhile, closer to home the Blessed St Michael of Gove has piously set out his plans to abolish diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040 in the UK. This may well have profound land use outcomes.

The Irish, not to be outdone, have proffered an even more aggressive time scale. One would have thought the Brexit debacle might have made the unctuous Michael more considered in his thinking through of ‘game changing’ proposals. Sadly it seems not.

With nary a consideration of electricity cost, source, infrastructure, car cost or grid collapse, St Michael charges full tilt at the windmill of electric transport. Putting aside the ‘unsettled science’ of particulate pollution and grossly inflated guesstimates of annual ‘death’ tolls thrown into the mix with zero consideration for their accuracy, there are profound flaws in the strategy.

It’s an interesting thought that nearly 90% of the world’s lithium, for the costly and whole life cycle polluting batteries for said cars, is under Chinese control. Surely a risky energy security strategy?

An electric car only reduces emissions by 17% compared to a much cheaper conventional vehicle over its whole life, due to higher energy use and cost in its manufacture.

It’s one thing powering a city car but quite another to plough an acre of Merse clay.

Obviously No 11 and Mr Hammond weren’t consulted as the loss to the Exchequer from the lower tax rate on electricity compared to hydrocarbon fuels could be £17,000 per car or around £170bn per annum it has been calculated. Bearing in mind the lack of conviction of successive Chancellors on the loss of tobacco tax revenues, saving lives from a proven killer, the financial implications of such a ‘gamechanger’ are profound – and costly.

Two proffered ‘green’ alternatives are the use of biomass to produce the electricity for electric cars or an increase in the inclusion rate of biofuel from crops into conventional fuels. Both strategies are flawed as there is simply not enough land to go round!

That is also ignoring the additional price pressure this would put on UK food prices, already reeling from Brexit inflation.

It has been calculated that to provide the extra electricity needed by 2040 would require the equivalent of another 10 new Hinckley Point nuclear reactors. To meet peak overnight recharging demand would require further massive investment, as would recharging infrastructure.

Just when you thought it was impossible for politicians to come up with more ill thought out and uncosted ‘game changing’ proposals, like corporation buses two come along together – both the fruit of the same wrongly wired cerebellum!

With the implications of fruit and veg price inflation on public health and loss of protection for regional foods post his beloved Brexit, last week Michael’s Defra strangely announced ‘regional’ food status for Sussex wines.

One shudders to think what such a ‘free thinker’ will propose for food production support post-2020 – which is only two harvests away.