As I write this article on 19 October we actually finished drilling yesterday which was a great relief and I am grateful for the opportunity which did not look as if it was going to happen at one point.
The surface has dried well and as long as one has not pulled up wet soil from a depth it has been easy to get soils to dry and make a good seed bed. I would be the first to acknowledge that we have not resolved the damage to a depth caused by the very wet harvest on some of our soils. But in practice trying to do that with a wet subsoil is impossible.
We will have to wait until next year and perhaps better conditions to tackle that legacy. In terms of pre emergence sprays we are up to date and on the whole with good rolled seedbeds the products have every chance of achieving good control. While the October drilling may not be by choice, the delay should help with blackgrass control with more sprayed off with glyphosate in the early flushes and a shorter emergence window before autumn turns to winter. There is of course the balance with crop competition but we have been increasing seed rates to try to compensate for that as we have moved into October.
The mild temperatures have allowed oilseed rape to grow on rapidly with good ground cover and minimal slug problems. Grass weeds are evident and we have sprayed virtually all of the oilseed rape with Centurion Max which appears to be working well. In any event we will follow up with Kerb later in the autumn to do our best to avoid any resistance issues emerging with the Centurion Max active and prolong its efficacy in the field.
I am encouraged by the evenness of the oilseed rape stands and we can expect crop competition to play a positive part next spring with the caveat that pigeons are manageable during the winter. In terms of this autumn there have been pigeons on oilseed rape fields but I think that is more a function of the lack of wheat drilling in September leaving a food gap before acorns and beech mast fall. Conversely with the rapid drilling recently there are plenty of seedbeds to glean and there appears to be a prolific quantity of acorns falling which has to help.
We did see prodigious numbers of hares as we combined fields this summer which should gladden the heart of all conservationists concerned with this iconic species. What has followed has been a plague of night time coursing with vehicle tracks across every field and dead hare carcasses left where they are killed.
Predation is often the reason for species decline and in this case human predation is a big cause in the decline of the hare population. Where fields are accessible there are very few hares left.
Conversely where we have gated and hedged fields limiting access there is still a good population. So we took the decision to do something about the unprotected field boundaries. We borrowed a Shakerator with a potato bulking body behind the outside tine from a neighbour and spent some of the non harvesting August and September days forming ditches round fields.
I would be the first to admit it is not pretty in the raw state but next year the ditches will be full of vegetation and blend in. Field entrances have been gated or blocked with old telegraph poles or tree trunks and will be gated in due course. It has not been without challenge as we have had trees pushed out of the way and poles dragged out of the way. In some places gates have been rammed, fences driven through and ditches crossed where they are not deep or wide enough. Those shortcomings are gradually being resolved. There is no doubt that the incidence has dropped dramatically which is gratifying although no doubt it will be an ongoing challenge.
I should mention that we do have excellent support from our Kent rural policing team which is a significant reason why we do not see day time hare coursing any more. The most effective deterrent has been the crushing of all vehicles involved in this form of wildlife crime and we should be clear it is wildlife crime.
The only concern we have is that increasingly that team is reassigned to urban problems at short notice. We have raised the matter with our police and crime commissioner Matthew Scott, who is very supportive of continued effective rural policing and Kent’s chief constable Ian Pughsley who is supportive, albeit constrained by achieving other targets and responses.
There is little to say about a Brexit update beyond the fact that the party conference season and public announcements from government do not really move our knowledge forward. Any deal seems destined for March 2019 and a no deal reversion to World Trade Organisation terms as likely an outcome as any other, including a second referendum. All pretty depressing stuff in a long term industry with investment decisions to be made.
The one thing I think is increasingly certain is that we are looking at a future for agriculture with significant structural change where there will be opportunities but there will also be casualties. Support organisations such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and the Farm Community Network are going to have an increase in demand for their help and will need assistance in fund raising from all of us over the next few months as we lead up to March 2019. When you consider that some of the produce from crops we have just drilled will be marketed post that date it really is looming on our business horizon.