At the point that I ordered my winter wheat seed in September the part of my farm that I intended to drill with wheat was as dry as sand. Even when the seed was delivered I wasn’t in any hurry to sow it because my arable land is plagued with blackgrass. So why rush out and drill crops in September and encourage the most pernicious annual weed known to arable farmers to germinate in vast numbers?
It’s easy to be wise after the event but, looking back, there’s no doubt that I’d become spoilt by a series of very dry recent autumns. Even on the wettest parts of my farm I’ve been able to get on the land at any point right through the winter for the past three years.
I think I’d actually started to believe that dry winters on my farm had become a ‘new normal’ as a result of climate change (in the same way that we no longer get extended periods of very cold weather in the South East of England any more). Then the rain started. I didn’t panic at first. Instead I just waited for brief breaks in the cloudbursts and then ploughed up some land and quickly drilled into the friable, freshly upturned soil.
Over a number of weeks we got on remarkably well using this technique, albeit that each day the rain made things more and more difficult. Puddles of water on the field surface became streams of water running down the plough furrow.
Eventually we sowed everything that we’d intended to plant. But, far from relenting, the rain then intensified to the point where my wheat fields suddenly looked more like paddy fields – which is a problem given that wheat is not known for growing particularly well under water. And how will I ever get onto the land this winter with timely applications of pesticides to tackle weeds and insect pests?
It’s at times like these, of course, that farmers have to show the resilience they are famous for. It simply won’t do to beat ourselves up about the financial implications of this disastrous autumn sowing campaign.
Who knows what spring will bring to my farm, let alone what the implications of Brexit will be by harvest 2020? Better to do what my forebears did in times of adversity: take each day as it comes and remember that most of one’s farming neighbours are in exactly the same boat.