Day 2 on the Farm – Managing risk

Apart from some newly hatched chicks and James’ pet wallabies the focus today was on crops rather than livestock.

We walked several of the crop fields with Steven, a contracted agronomist. The farm has a rotation of barley, feed wheat, oats, potatoes and grass. Steven was looking at the condition, growth stage and threats (weeds or pests) to each of the crops and would make a recommendation for spraying pesticides, fungicides or fertilisers. Of course, the balance is minimising the amount spent on these inputs whilst maximising the amount of output. The risk of pests, weeds and poor growth will be very dependent on the weather so trying to predict what the best course of action is a very tricky skill to master.

This felt a bit like playing the stock market…which is another thing James has to deal with. With the impending Brexit vote there was suggestion that the fertilisers imported from Poland would rapidly increase in price, so James had to quickly make a decision whether to buy today, ensuring that there was adequate storage (in hindsight, he made a very good choice!).

All the crops looked in good condition, and again I was amazed at the level of organisation required. Each field is planned so that the current crop will be harvested at the correct time for the sowing of the next crop and follow a rotation pattern that will ensure maximum nutrients are kept in the soil, James appeared to be thinking several years ahead. On top of this, certain fields are only suitable for some crops. This issue was discussed at the lunch time Catchment Sensitive Farming meeting that we attended.

The unprecedented flooding in Cumbria this winter meant that lots of farms had a lot of runoff and soil erosion in areas where is hadn’t previously been an issue. Most farmers will know which fields need cover crops, which need contour ploughing, which need particularly dry conditions for fertiliser application etc. based on slope, soil type and proximity to a watercourse, but with the amount and intensity of rainfall we are now getting this risk map might need updating.

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