Crop and estate management
The crop in the fields that are in their second year of growing wheat in the rotation had fully emerged by the beginning of November, having been sown in early October. Two of these fields had been sown with our trial to create nesting opportunities for skylarks. It was then possible to see where the undrilled patches had been created and note the difference in row width between a conventionally sown field and one sown at twice the normal row width.
These fields received a herbicide application in late November and this was the last treatment to any of our crops this year. Nothing else will go onto the crops until there is a dry, warm spell in early March when the rape will receive its first nitrogen dressing.
The last of the grain was sold from the farm store in mid December and it is now possible to review last harvests yields and profitability. Oilseed rape yields were much better than last year at an average of 3.2 tonnes per hectare (t/ha).
Average yields would have been higher still but for the damage to one field by woodpigeons. They gathered on a part of the field that could not be effectively scared due to the slope of the land and a house at its lower end.
Wheat yields also varied across the farm. The wheat that followed oilseed rape averaged 10.3 t/ha while the same variety following set-aside yielded less at 8.0 t/ha. This was due to a soil borne disease that had persisted in the set-aside fields, surviving on the roots of the self-sown wheat and grasses. The quality of this wheat, variety Claire, was affected by the rain in August that delayed the harvest. Its poor quality meant that it could only be sold into the low price feed wheat market.
The wheat that followed wheat in the rotation last year was a particularly early maturing variety, Soissons, and this was harvested before the rains. It produced a very good quality grain that fetched a premium price for milling for bread flour. This good price was in part offset by the inherently lower yield of this variety at an average of just over 8 t/ha. The overall effect of improved yields but some lower prices was that the income left after all crop production costs had been accounted for was up from £46,000 in 2001, to £49,000 in 2002.
Birds and biodiversity
The peak skylark count so far this winter was 85 on 18 December. This was our highest ever count, the birds being almost wholly in the oilseed rape. Linnets have hung around for the first time this autumn with a peak of 13 on 1 November. We have been putting out farm grown wheat and oilseed rapeseed for the birds since early autumn.
Our first yellowhammer feeding on this supply this winter occurred on 5 December although there has been a flock of 30 to 40 birds ranging across the set-aside strips. The peak count at the feeding site was 64 chaffinches and 11 yellowhammers on 19 December.
Our unharvested mix of wheat and kale, now in its second year, saw a dramatic drop in numbers of feeding birds after the end of October. It appears that the gales at that month's end rattled all the seeds out and onto the ground. Here they disappeared amongst the weeds or we presume were eaten by mice and voles.
We have occasionally been flushing snipe from fields or ditches over the last three winters. This December single birds were flushed on two occasions. Closer to the true number of snipe present was revealed when we did a nighttime mammal count using a spotlight eight snipe were counted across the farm along with three woodcock.
A new addition to the farm bird list was a drake wigeon that was seen on one of the ponds. It was a very foggy morning and it is presumed that it was lost and landed on the first water it found. Birds just flying over the farm included 17 golden plover on 1 November and a buzzard drifting over from adjacent woods or copses on several occasions.