I didn’t have a spare minute to write to you on Wednesday as we were still combining wheat in between the rain showers. Harvest is a very mixed bag this year.

Dear John...

I know I said I would have an article ready for you by Monday, but it’s harvest time, and things have been somewhat chaotic here.

I was going to write it last Monday, but we had a lot of Blue Grey cows coming down from Glen Lyon where they spend the summer grazing. They are looking in perfect condition leading up to calving. Their heifer calves from last year will stay out on grass for another month, though I’m starting to feed them some maxxamon treated barley before housing. We don’t let the bull calves out to graze after weaning any more as they are absolute hooligans with the dykes and fences. I know the trend is towards finishing on grass, but this is what works for us, and they average 355 kg deadweight at 14 months.

More cows came down from the hills on Tuesday, and we started combining wheat, for the first time ever before we had cut an acre of barley.

I didn’t have a spare minute to write to you on Wednesday as we were still combining wheat in between the rain showers. Harvest is a very mixed bag this year. Our first field of Oilseed Rape in 25 years gave us 2 tons/acre off the weighbridge at 7.5% moisture. The variety Crome is club root resistant, and we will be sowing another resistant variety, Anarion, on Monday. We are also putting on 20m3 of digestate which gave it a great start last year.

The Stokes wheat has averaged around 4 tons/acre although one field after cauliflowers had large areas flat after the heavy downpours we have experienced this summer. We cut the flat bits separately as it is a seed crop and I suspect there will be a lot of sprouting where it has been lying. The field looked like a jigsaw puzzle at the halfway point. More on that later…

On Thursday after finishing the wheat, we started cutting spring barley. The regrowth after the drought in June is shocking. There are fields on the sandy land near the shore that have a complete mixture of green and ripe barley. We have put glyphosate on the fields for feed barley, but most of it is for seed, so we are not allowed to spray it unless we sacrifice the seed premium. Coupled with that, the heavy rain showers in July and August have brought down much of the barley after grass, with only the tramlines still standing; something for Brian on the combine to look forward to, but after seeing the way he scooped up the dead flat wheat so skillfully, I’m confident he will cope. Some people just do.

All the wheat straw is now baled, and most of it will be ok I hope, but the weather is so catchy we had to take it sharpish.

Returning to the wheat, I would have had it dried and germination tested by now, but the intake drag link for the grain drier decided to disintegrate spectacularly on Friday morning, just as I was sitting down to write, causing a chain reaction of burnt out belts and chokes in the elevator and feed auger to the drier as it scattered parts of itself throughout the whole system. Chris, Tom and I spent the morning fishing the pieces out of various holes and pipes, and Robert the blacksmith and his son Scott like the geniuses they are reassembled it all in a couple of hours and started welding up the rusted floor of the conveyor that was the root of the problem. While he was doing that the last load of cows came back from the hills and we had to sort them all out.

It's now Saturday morning and we are still working on the drier. With any luck we will be up and running again this afternoon.

Luckily the big pile of wheat that is still sitting is only 16.5% moisture, so it isn’t going wrong, but what I know, and you don’t, is we are going to be cutting more barley again on Tuesday when the combine gets back from brother Gus unless the rain stops us (again), so yours truly is going to have his hands full for the next few days.

We have also been picking blueberries and a late crop of strawberries every day this week, and we will be right through September. I think they taste particularly sweet as the summer draws to a soggy conclusion.

Irritating as the showers are at harvest time, they are not enough to stop us having to continue irrigating Maris Piper potatoes on the light land. I know of several growers who are already lifting loose skin Piper before it is ready for £500/ton which was grown for later contracts, a sure sign that potatoes are going to be very short this year. One of the enduring yet pleasing mysteries of the potato trade is how the goalposts move on quality whenever there is a shortage.

To sum up John, I hate to disappoint you, but don’t you know it’s HARVEST TIME, and between the cows, the wheat, the barley, the oilseed rape, the potatoes, the blueberries and the strawberries, I don’t think I could possibly write a piece for you by Monday.

Yours, James.