Steeple Bumpstead
Agricultural Discussion Society

Established 1929

Newsletter March 2001

I see that it is 12 months since I last wrote for the village magazine. The truth is that I have just not knuckled down to the job, but I will throw in the excuse of the appalling autumn weather making arable work such a stop-start affair that, while I had too much time standing idle, I always seemed to be too busy to consider doing anything else. (I know that sounds a bit feeble but it is the only excuse that I can come up with) Incidentally I did get all my land sown in 2000 but I only had 5 ½ hours to spare. Needless to say, I really got into the spirit of the evening at the New Years Eve party.

During the autumn and winter season our society has been thriving. We have been fortunate with good speakers. Although the topics do not vary much from one year to the next it is the different viewpoints that are interesting.

John Kerr from Suffolk visited us in October. This meeting is always an unknown quantity. The desire is to have the best possible speaker to start the new season, but if the meeting coincides with a busy drilling period then we can end up with a poor attendance. In an ideal year all the drilling is finished by the first week in October. This year very little land work had been done the weather was still wet so we had a very well attended meeting. As we listened to John tell the story of his farming family we could hear the rain beating down on the hall roof. The Kerr family moved down to East Anglia from Scotland in the 1920’s and they started with a small dairy farm. They now farm thousands of acres and he has ensured a viable business for his sons to continue. It is quite rare to hear of a farmer’s son wishing to continue in the farming business nowadays. The meeting could not be described as educational but it was none the less interesting for that. John was an excellent speaker.

John Blackman is a cereal breeder who has an impressive record of producing good varieties of wheat. He also has a reputation for being quite outspoken about some of the conventional wisdom regarding sowing dates and fertiliser timings. However, when he spoke at our November meeting he was not as controversial as we expected, but gave us some tips on how to get the best from the varieties that he has produced. He also suggested that we should grow more barley as new varieties are showing the potential to be more profitable than wheat.

We like to have a talk on financial matters each year and in December Graham Page who works at Ensors in Haverhill showed that a local accountant could be every bit as informative as the more familiar names from national institutions. For many years farmers have been told that they must diversify to survive. Graham, who is a farmers son, demonstrated how this could be achieved with a small business he has set up with his wife that makes small packages of hay for sale in pet shops. It is such a simple idea! (– Why didn’t I think of that!)

In January James Maldon told us about his work at the Cobbold Trust farm at Otley, which is a ‘LEAF’ demonstration farm. Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF) is a concept that uses modern farming methods but endeavours to do so with the minimum impact on the environment. This is achieved by only applying as much fertiliser as the crop needs and will use efficiently and only applying those pesticides that are needed by the crop. This avoids what we call prophylactic applications but it means that each field and each crop must have it’s exact needs defined before any decision is made on what to apply. This in turn means different products and different rates applied to each field. Most farmers are doing this to some degree already (because applying unnecessary inputs is wasted money) but the extra paperwork involved may well put many off becoming a LEAF farm.

At our supper meeting in February Peter Over was a very amusing after dinner speaker. A good time was had by all, especially the winners of the trophies for the crop competitions. Two of the winners happened to be new members. It was suggested that this was arranged to ensure their continued membership, but I can assure you that the crop samples were independently judged. It must be that we are attracting a better class of farmer to our society – I wonder if they would be any good as a secretary?

The March meeting was cancelled because of the Foot & Mouth crisis, which I could write another page about. But I won’t.

Stephen Graves (Secretary)

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