As I See it on the Land – September 2022

What idiot wrote this article last month?

I was informed harvest was several days away when I was writing the piece. Searing heat for a few days transformed the situation. The ears of the wheat were rapidly dried and ripened by the sun. The straw was still green and yet harvest was fast approaching. The combine started in the fields of our neighbour, with whom we share the machine, near Steeds Lane. It then moved into our wheat fields adjacent to the Royal Military canal. Yields were way above our expectation after such a dry time. The combine recorded yields in excess of 4 tonnes an acre.

Most of our straw is chopped by the combine. However, two mixed farming neighbours have about 20 acres each of straw from us to bale for their cattle. I am told that the cattle, currently living on bare ground, are relishing the green straw which would normally be used for bedding.

For the second year running I have been made redundant from harvest tractor driving. My lack of speed and agility makes me a hinderance, I gather, and I have to keep out of the way. I am still a ‘gofer’ when needed! Modern harvesting is done at such a speed when everything works well. The wheat harvest was completed in July for the first time. The spring oats were ready during the second week of August. They averaged around 2.5 tonnes an acre. Considering they had received very little moisture since drilling we were pleased with the result. They should go for milling and have been transported to the Weald Granary store at Mereworth. The wheat test results show a sample with a good Hagberg, but a little low on protein which means it is not perfect for bread making (sorry Willesborough Windmill). This is a national problem. It will either get mixed with a better sample, often Canadian wheat, or go for biscuits. Whatever happens it is better than feed wheat.

We still have a lot of linseed to harvest, which is very uneven ripening. It has flowered over several weeks. I am told the intention is to hire a special machine that will be attached to the combine header (the front bit) and strip just the seed heads off leaving the wiry stalks standing, to rot away during the winter months whilst a crop of wheat will be sown through it.

Livestock everywhere are struggling for food and a water supply. I feel sorry for farmers who have lost crops because of fire. I received a phone call last weekend, “did I own the sheep off Ash Hill”. No, but I know who does, once we had established the where part. “There is a lamb stuck in a pond, head above the mud, still alive. We have called the fire brigade”. I rang the owner who arrived at the pond after two fire engines that had travelled from Faversham had already rescued it. A rather large public expenditure which could have been avoided, when it could have been done easily by the owner. Grateful for the alert, but wondering how it was seen from a footpath? This reminds me of the miss use of foot paths and trespass. We have been fortunate that the sheep that were given access to our wheat fields east of Ash Hill through a gate left open by someone belonged to another farmer. Through his insurance company, the NFU, we have received compensation for the loss. The owner is threatening to make it impossible for people to have illegal access to his field at that point. There is a footpath already along his boundary.

Today, 21st, a morning phone call to say sheep are coming down the Scout Hut drive. I drive up quickly to find they had been chased back up into the field by villagers and the gate shut. Unaware of any animals in my field I went to investigate. There were in excess of 3 hundred hungry and thirsty sheep at the top of the field, several had been in the pond. They had come over the fence from my brother’s field, having escaped from Turves Farm. The owner was traced to Mersham. Nearly all the ponds are dry on the hills with the wild life struggling or dying.

Sunday 24th July, early am call to say we have a burst water pipe opposite Munn Cottage. The water coming out of the house tap was dirty. Travelled the mile to find the mains had blown off our water meter. Water gushing out straight into the ditch. Turned our pipe off. Returned home to phone East Kent Water to report the burst, only to be told we were commercial not residential, they could not deal with it. “What should we do for water in two houses and five caravans?”. “Go to your shop and buy water” was the reply. Unbelievable. Water was purchased and distributed around. Monday we were put through to the commercial department who sent a man to look. He said turn the tap back on, because enough dirt will have been cleared out of the pit by the burst, so we should get some supply. We did, but it was very slow. Insufficient to run a washing machine or dishwasher, but enough to draw off for a kettle. Clare took over the phoning, and we were told nothing would happen for a week, because they needed to apply for a road closure with the Highways Dept. Then we were told it would be repaired on Thursday. Wednesday afternoon it was quietly and quickly repaired with no fuss.

The holiday let was dependant on a good supply of water to run everything. They only had a kettle to boil water for drinks, washing up and personal health. We provided water to pour into the cistern to flush the loo. After 3 days they abandoned their holiday.

A visitor to the farm on Friday saw a hummingbird moth on a salvia in the garden of the holiday let. He said he had only ever seen one in his life. I said we had plenty and proceeded to show him nine without travelling around the whole garden.

My MRI scan showed a torn cartilage and I am having an arthroscopy operation in three weeks’ time and an enforced holiday.

Peter Sillibourne