Seasonal Favourites

Which is your favourite season ?
Spring with the bursting forth of waking nature and the expectation of the sun on your back in days ahead.
Summer with long lazy warm evenings and holidays to look forward to
Autumn with its field and hedgerow harvest complete and the wonderful tinted trees.
Winter with snow, frost, log fires and family Christmas
Although the picture in this country is seldom echoed by reality the seasons are, nevertheless, evocative.

My favourite is autumn. As Keats wrote in his poem, it’s a season of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’. The pace of farming life slowly starts to moderate with harvest over, the culmination of a year’s hard work and hope invested. The colours of sugar rich tree leaves . . . .  and the start of the rugby season !

In the end the Polehanger harvest was trouble free and better than expected. I hinted in an earlier episode that cereal plants have a wonderful capacity to compensate for thin populations and the Oil Seed Rape did just that. It wasn’t a bumper yield but higher than we thought in May. Our Winter Wheat though did yield a record for this farm and some of the credit for that goes to Mark for his meticulous attention to detail in the growing of the crop. There is also still evidence of residual fertility in our soil near the farm buildings from the years under pasture, even though it’s 18 years since we sold the cows.

However, the price of wheat at the moment is awful due to a combination of some surplus carried over from the big harvest of 2008, together with big yields expected from this harvest worldwide and depressed demand due to the world recession. We sold some wheat forward in June for January 2010 delivery at a half decent price and will now hold onto the rest to see if prices improve. We got it horribly wrong when we sold forward in 2007. You win some you lose some !

When I started driving a combine harvester at the tender age of 15, it had a 10 ft. cutting head and we were excited if we harvested 25 – 30 tonnes in a day. This year we cut 70 acres of winter wheat with a 30 ft header and carted about 350 tonnes back to store in one day. Wheat breeders have given us varieties with much stronger straw now so that even though the yield has almost doubled in 40 years ago, the crop stands up much better which means the harvester is always able to travel at optimum speed.

Once the wheat seed is through the combine, threshed and sieved and emptied into a trailer in field, it is driven back to store at Bury Farm, and tipped onto a specially perforated barn floor. The barn sides have reinforced walling so that the grain can be heaped or elevated up to a height of 10 feet or so thus making best use of the barn space available. Air can be blown through ducts below the floor and up into the heap to cool and dry the grain as necessary. In order to store well and be acceptable to the mill where it will end up in the next stage of it’s journey, it must be below 15% moisture. Above this  moisture it will heat up and mould and get insect infestation. However, if it is below say 14% then each % point of moisture extracted is weight and value lost. The temperature and moisture can be accurately and regularly monitored by a sampling spear that takes a small amount of grain from depth at various points across the heap.

Meanwhile, as you will no doubt have noticed, no sooner has the combine left the field than hedgerows are trimmed and cultivations start to prepare a seed bed for the next crop . . . and so we start the cycle all over again. Roll on Harvest 2010.

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