Once again, we have been hampered by the wet August weather, but Steve Hutchings managed to combine the barley in Brown Lane last week just before the current stretch of wet weather that has been with us since about August 14th. It’s our first organic cereal crop since the official commencement of our organic status on January 1st 2020, and it was drilled in the Autumn of 2019 is the knowledge that organic status was applied for. We didn’t use any chemical fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides, it wall just best practise husbandry, and 450 tonnes of farmyard manure.
Organic yields are a lot lower than might be achieved using more intensive practises, but Steve probably got about 2 tonnes per acre, and our inputs were relatively low given the money we didn’t spend on chemicals. Having said that, the straw was a major disappointment, with under half the volume you might normally expect, but this is a widespread problem this year, mainly due to the wet and cold early part of the growing season, followed by an eight week mini-drought. Anyway, Steve combined it and baled it on the same day, once again just beating the weather.
We have decided to stubble drill half of Brown Lane with a forage crop consisting of forage rape, crimson clover, vetch, chicory, and plantain, which should go in in the next few days. The hope is that it will produce grazing for the lambs in the later part of the Autumn and in to 2021. A lot of sheep farmers on Exmoor sell their lambs when the grass stops in late Autumn, as ‘stores’ to be finished by other farmers away from the hill. If we can get the forage crop away we can hang on to the stores and maybe get a better price for them as finished animals in the new Year. It’s not just about that though. The crimson clover and vetch are both nitrogen fixers, and the chicory and plantain have deep tap roots that help improve soil structure, so the hope is that this crop will also help the yield of spring sown barley next year. Alternatively it won’t go in because it’s too wet, or we get it in and then it’s too wet, or we get a blizzard in October and the lambs can’t get at it, and so on! Still you’ve got to try.