As we approach midway through the year, I realise just how far behind, not to mention how embarrassingly bad our crops look this year. So much so that the BBC want to come and film some of our fields and generally humiliate my farming prowess publicly. It is a story that although I would rather not be telling, does have a serious point and whilst this will have a major financial impact on our farm over the next eighteen months, it is a problem that extends far beyond our farm gate. I call it Embarrassing Crop Syndrome.
Major food manufacturers are starting to plan for the shortage of British grown crops over the next year or so. Companies such as Weetabix and McVitie’s have both announced they will have to source some of their wheat from abroad to make up for the shortfall grown in Britain. Or as I learned on a recent farm visit to a vegetable producer, supermarkets are having to accept that contracts will not all be met for supply, with agreements being renegotiated to accommodate the late season. Additionally, as well as vegetables and fruits being later to harvest, customers are also accepting that these crops may well be smaller in size than the normal strict criteria set. This shows that even the all powerful retail sector can not dictate to the weather if it does not want to play ball.
Currently, our rapeseed, where there is a crop, is in flower, but the plants are still very small and sparse. I can not see how this will make up the lost ground to give a normal yield. Although rapeseed does have an incredible ability to compensate when it does start growing in the spring, time is running out for it to manage this. Likewise, with the autumn planted wheat fields, they are simply not growing as quickly as I would like. On a brighter note, our spring planted crops of wheat, barley and beans are growing well in the warmer weather, so I hope they at least will bring some good results.
Thankfully we are not taking part in the annual Open Farm Sunday which takes place on 9th June this year. However we are welcoming some of our customers to the farm during June to see how we grow, press and bottle our rapeseed oil. The last two parts of this are not an issue, as we can proudly show them our latest investment in the oil pressing factory, however, the growing bit will cause a slight problem. It has even been suggested by one happy neighbour with a big grin on his face, who does have a field or two of good rapeseed, that we take our customers to look at his crop instead – it’s certainly a tempting offer, even if it was meant tongue in check. However, I am working on the principle that our customers will be able to appreciate how we have to work with nature, and this year is hopefully an exception and will not become the norm.
Anyway, that’s enough doom and gloom, in the next couple of months harvest will arrive and with it will be our chance to say goodbye to the disaster of the 2013 crops. Then we can look forward to planting next year’s crops which of course will grow fantastically well, in ideal weather conditions, so we can all look forward to talking about how good 2014 crops will be. In the meantime, I just need to find a harvest student to help clear this lot out the way first.
From LEAF Demonstration Farmer Duncan Farrington