Monday, 24 August 2009
My Saturday Evening on the Combine Harvester
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed going out to meet the harvesting crew on Saturday evening. I could sit with briefing paper after briefing paper but I always find I learn so much more when I've actually been to "kick the tyres" on any subject.
There's no 45 hour week during the harvest season. Bruce, driving the brand new New Holland CR 9090 has been behind the wheel from morning until 11pm every day for the past fortnight only stopping when the rain is really heavy. Even with this state of the art machine there is no time to rest, and he hopes to have finished by Tuesday.
I saw real team work. The combine is accompanied by a fleet of 3 tractors and trailers off loading the grain in a constant cycle back to the store. No time wasted. Within a day of harvest another crew will come in and either cultivate and re-seed with rape or plough ready for for the next wheat crop. The new seed must get in the ground and start growing before winter sets in.
Innovation is constant. Jim proudly showed me the new cultivator rig that he had modified and built himself to meet the farms specific heavy clay soil and significantly beating the performance of the best available in the market.
There is real care for local wildlife - birds, hares and foxes were lovingly watched out for as they scampered away. "the countryside is what makes the job so special" said Bruce.
Care is taken of the ground too. I asked Charlie the boss why he was re-ploughing the straw back into the earth when I saw neighbours bailing it up for sale. He explained that he ploughs back every nutrient he can. "Its the potash - the world is running out" he explained "it won't be an issue in my lifetime but will be for my son." Charlie's son is only 8 but in farming those who care about the future think many years ahead.
Charlie went on to explain that despite the better technology and exceptional team work the actual yields per acre of ground have not significantly improved for many decades. "The world population is growing but we're not growing any more. We will run out of food" Charlie explained. This is all before climate change. He asked me to focus on the importance of research and development in seed types. (Incidentally I notice that Defra is worried about this too - their consultation Food 2030 was launched mid August and they are hoping for comments by the end of the summer - I wonder how many farmers will have time to do that over the harvest period?)
On the way back home we discussed the volatility of world food prices and the challenges his friends and family members have around the country, from cattle (beef) to dairy herds, the milk price and power of the supermarkets.
In just a couple of hours on a Saturday evening I have learnt so much and started thinking about much more. Thank you to our local farmers for sharing their harvest thoughts.