Farmers [even my dear son on a bad day] are not always known as the most cheerful fellows and in the course of their work they do have to contend with all sorts of problems beyond their control – the biggest of which at the moment is the current inclement weather. From one end of the country to the other there are terrible tales reaching us of lost hay crops, germinating ears of corn and total frustration amongst the growers that it is raining somewhere [it feels like everywhere] every single day and rather unusually almost the whole country is affected. However today even I have two week’s worth of washing hanging on the outside line, but still the wheat is too wet!
Increasing and genuine concerns do now exist within the grain and milling industry regarding the wheat crop. The ‘hard’ varieties of wheat such as Solstice and Malacca, to name but two, are grown for bread making and if they have been damaged by the weather they may not be of sufficient quality to mill and will therefore end up as feed wheat. The damage this weather causes is both widespread and extremely troublesome. Wet ground means in some areas combines and tractors with trailers [sadly the work horses of my first lifetime are long gone] get stuck fast and pulling them out is no easy task not to mention the terrible mess left behind in the field afterwards.
In a season like this the ears of the corn can either germinate while on still the stalk or just fall out of the ears with tremendous losses. Some farmers have to choose between either accepting this loss of crop from the ears [and subsequent unwanted germination in the fields] or accept exceedingly high drying costs, burning gas, oil or electricity. If the moisture meter reads 15 per cent or below then drying does not need to take place, and Jethro cannot cope with moisture levels above 18 per cent here at Prosperous Farm owing to the types of grain stores he has now. Upon delivery from the field to the grain store every single trailer load is measured for both moisture levels and the bushel weight. Jethro has just ordered a grain stirrer to keep the grain on the move as the crop which was combined with too much moisture could start to heat if not kept aerated and moving while drying takes place. I am told sales of ‘grain butlers’ [grain stirrer] are up for this year some three hundred percent! I know some arable farms have dryers which use conveyors, and setting the costs aside, they can dry corn with much higher moisture levels possibly even up to 24 percent if they had to.
One of the measures of quality milling wheat is called a Hagberg falling number – for a detailed explanation please read. This potential loss of quality will have a huge impact on both prices and our food security. This potential loss of quality has potentially serious consequences to both the individual farmers and the country as a whole. Wheat which does not make the grade as quality milling wheat is sold as feed wheat at a much lower price and must be exported on the world market as we grow a surplus of feed wheat in this country. To give you some idea of the quantity of wheat used in the UK the latest published milling wheat figures can be read here.
All we can do is hope and pray, for a spell of settled weather just as we did in the 17th and 18th Centuries, although perhaps prayers were more important to us in those days. I know daily life moves faster now and I am yet to decide if it is better. I need to find out more about this strange new world where I have found farming to be the same in so many ways [the work, the animals, the weather] and also completely different [the rules & regulations, machines, varieties and size of both farms and machines].