Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Combine Harvester Pre-Harvest Routine

Combine Harvester Pre-Harvest Routine

Think of your combine as SpaceX and there's every chance your harvest will be trouble-free. Here we provide an action plan for a smooth lift-off.  It's all there from checking to see the lights work to inspecting the threshing mechanism, drum or rotor.

Note the plastic spout extension to load trailer at a distance

Prepare your combine for harvest now

Time spent on the combine before harvest is many times more effective than spending time on the machine once the job has begun. Yet many farmers somehow forget this, doing a minimal oil change grease and check over. They don't want to look for problems that take time and money to put right. It's a costly way to manage this all-important operation.

This article comes from the experience of a number of combine contractors, all who contributed independent ideas - many thanks to all. The aim is to get your combine, whatever age and specification, tuned and ready to go without stopping. Now is the time when you can do the job when things are relatively quiet, away from the pressure of harvest.

Now’s the time to closely inspect the big components. Hair-line cracks in the drum, damage to the rotor, a worn discharge auger can be properly fixed with either farm or outside staff.  Better done now than have failure in the middle of harvest.

Oils need servicing early.

Hydraulic oil quality is worth sampling and sending to a lab and changing if advised. If there has been a pump or motor failure it is more likely to be contaminated.
Engine oil needs changing now if you didn't do so when you put the machine away. Why? Because oil stood in the sump will separate to sludge at the bottom and deceptively clean oil at the top. The sludge is the first lubricant to circulate, and can block an oilway so a part of the engine runs dry. Disaster. (The author writes from experience).
If you change engine oil in Sept/Oct at the finish of harvest the sludge hasn’t formed. Fill with fresh oil and one job is done. Leaving the sump dry over winter will do seals no good.

Combine electrics are prone to damage. Rats, squirrels and others find grain where there is also some tasty wiring. A pre-harvest checkup should test all the combine functions and problems can be sorted rather than ignored. Vermin will also bite through coolant hoses and these need careful checking as well as testing. 

Chains are another major component. Check the auto oiler is working and see if the oil is getting through to each chain. Older machines that rely on the driver’s oil can can be modified with a home built auto-oiler - not difficult to make which reduces chain wear.  Practical Farm Ideas Vol 14 - 1 has a home made one for a baler, while in issue 1 - 1 there’s an auto-oiler on a Standen beet harvester. Both involve a reservoir, a mechaincal pump and plastic pipes to drop the oil on the chain with greatest efficiency.

Drive belts and tyres are other parts that can’t be ignored.

Combine shakers and straw walkers vibrate and are liable to break down. They’re not built for life-time use. Cracks can be welded to keep them going, but they need regular inspection to provide a forecast of what is likely to happen. Similarly the cutter bar and header needs close pre-harvest inspection and repair.

Essential tools and spares for combine harvesting

Tools and spares are worth sorting out pre-harvest. Having parts that tend to wear out over time, like bearings, chains, belts, sprockets, sickle sections and injector lines reduce downtime as the team is on stop while they are located and collected. Wear on some of these parts can easily be caught by visual inspection.
Then there are the tools you need to fit them. Combine contractors can have a full set of belts; a belt-tightener pulley; connector links, half links and chains; sickle sections and guards for the cutterbar; drive chains for the heads; and fingers for the header auger. Engine and hydraulic oil, assorted bearings, bolts and nuts, and welding rods.
Other important, although less obvious, tools that are needed includes the combine service manual and a parts catalog. Also include a ladder to get up the side and a sharp knife to cut wrapped straw.

Fire prevention

Around 80 combines get burnt out in the UK each year. The victims are often modern machines, and this is explained by their high pressure fuel systems - a leak has diesel squirting at high pressure near red hot engines. New combines are as vulnerable as older machines. Fuel tanks are made of plastic; there is a lot of oil on board. The large machines can burn for some time before the driver knows about it - maybe a justification for fitting a camera.

Have a leaf blower in the cab

Modern combines operate in a cloud of dust and chopped straw, which means very regular and effective cleaning. One contributor to Practical Farm Ideas carries a leaf blower in the cab and blows off chaff as many as four to five times a day. Another has fitted a compressor and tank which makes it easy to blow off screens and accumulated chaff.

Auto fire extinguisher

Most combines have a standard fire extinguisher, but few have fitted an auto extinguisher like FireTrace which we first described some 20 years ago. The simple idea means the initial flame sets it off and it squirts at the base of the fire. Remember the fire of London started as a small fire in a bakery in Pudding Lane, and Grenfell was an overheating refrigerator. 

Prevention through effective cleaning is clearly the best approach. Keeping the machine clean is a vital part of operating it.

Daily maintenance is best done in the morning

Much better to do the daily service and essential inspection in the morning when you’re not dog tired and can do it in daylight. But in the evening, once you have shut down the engine, a five minute tour to check if anything is running hot makes sense.
Check engine oil, hydraulic oil, grease the 10 hour ones every day of not more frequently.
Also, inspect and clean screens; open concave door and clean: inspect belts; clean windows.

Winter maintenance checklist

Start with this partial checklist covering the major parts of a combine. You can also check with your service manager for a complete checklist.
    •    Wash and wax.
    •    Check all lights.
    •    Tighten all belts as needed.
    •    Check water pump bearing/tensioner for wear
    •    Tighten all belts as needed.
    •    Look for cracks in the belts.
    •    Check all chains for tightness and wear.
    •    Check feeder house chains.
    •    Check elevator chains.
    •    Check bearings.
    •    Check the feeder house floor for wear. It may need to be replaced or rebuilt.
    •    Check the concave for excess wear.
    •    Inspect the drum bars for straightness and wear.
    •    Check the conveyor auger bearings for wear and dryness.
    •    Check fountain and unloading augers for wear.
    •    Check walkers and bearings for cracks and general wear, or check the rotors. Look for excess wear and check the alignment and bearings.
    •    Check the total condition of the straw chopper (hammers, knives, shell, rotor). Is the chopper properly balanced or does it shake excessively?
    •    Weld any and all cracks.
Take advantage of any combine meetings run by your dealer.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Economic self-sufficiency will be farmers'​ new goal

Like many, I've been trying to make some sense of it all. You know what I mean and what's on my mind, and like everyone else, it's a new experience. 

To me it really does feel as if all the world’s a stage. There’s no need to explain why… the life of every human, in every village, in every country across the globe is effected by a single variety of microscopic bug. 

We have become news addicts, amateur microbiologists, and look for the power of prayer to turn the grim statistics on the graphs downwards. Have we reached the peak? Will there be sufficient PPE for the hospital staff should I get it? We have become fearful of everyone, family and friends as well as strangers. Have they been close to anyone carrying the virus? 

Authority becomes agitated with people breaking the rules, the guidelines, the swiftly written laws. Incongruously it’s mounted policemen on well groomed hunters who patrol the parks for sunbathers and the under 2m joggers. 

The global shut-down has unbelievable consequences. Flower growers in Kenya are dumping 50 tons a day. Half the Colombian coffee crop is unpicked. Global milk prices collapsed simply through distribution changes. With empty roads and clear skies oil prices have gone from $75 to under $30/barrel. 

On the farm, life is unchanged. This spring, the busiest season for any farmer, is being kind to us farmers. Lambing has generally gone well in good conditions, and this spell of warm weather will bring them on a treat. Cows too have got some decent grass under them, and spring calving sucklers have got it good. Crops look better than expected, though some are wanting some rain. The plants and animals have no clue of the change in their environment, and a good thing too.

This week I took a call from a farmer who said that, when he’s on the farm, he finds himself forgetting all those ghastly events on the TV, in the paper, on-line. 

“You focus on the job in hand, checking stock, crop walking, fixing something. On the farm here there's a lot to look after and help along, and thankfully the virus should be no-where near”

Despite that, these global events are going to have a huge impact on his farming, and in the not too distant future. Economic recession will have consequences on prices and values; heavy support will be needed for many industries and government services including the NHS, just the same as it was for farmers in foot and mouth.  

Since the start of Practical Farm Ideas in 1992 I have promoted self-sufficiency, from an economic standpoint. A part of that was making things to make the farm work better. I often say that the welding classes allowed me to reduce the quantity of string which held the farm together, but in fact the bits of kit I bodged together helped increase yields and reduce costs at very little expense. Over my PFI years I have seen changes made by innovative farmers which have increased their profitability hugely. In the next issue I have an organic farmer in Ireland who has near doubled his organically grown spring barley yield by doing it differently. The challenge is to make these and similar changes on your farm. 

Economic self-sufficiency is going to be the new goal for many farmers, and this magazine will do all it can to help show the way, as it has done for the past 27 years. 

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What UK Farmers need to look out for after Coronavirus.

Too much to take in

What’s the big story for today? The virus? The lock-down of UK plc? The FTSE crash? Not much else is getting a look-in. Even Greta Thunberg, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew have all lost the lime-light. You'll have difficulty in finding anything on farming. 

And maybe that's because, compared with many other sectors, farming isn’t such a bad business to be in. We work from home anyway. Mostly, we live isolated virus-free lives. We can endure a few  months of restricted movement. 

Demand for farmer's products looks pretty solid and certainly hasn’t disappeared like it has for airlines. Neither are we looking a shed loads of equipment being parked up like their planes. 

So far we are not facing shortages of inputs, and the cost of some of these, like red diesel, is on the decline… if only slowly. 

And, to cap it all, our non-cap basic payments are assured for this next year.  Lots to be thankful for. 

Looking ahead 

Looking further ahead and the view becomes somewhat murky. Forget climate change, further controls on chemicals...  and the main issue is the change in payments. The public money for public good. It’s the next big issue for farmers.

Future Practical Farm Ideas issues will be looking at what this means, and we have made a useful start in the Financial Focus of the current issue. It takes a broad look at the decision to go for what we have called 'eco-money' or continue farming as before. 

It has similarities as whether to go organic. So much depends on the soil you farm. Years ago I visited a farmer near Newent who went organic and found he was getting better arable and grass yields than before. In passing he told me the top soil across much of his farm was as deep as his 3C digger could reach. I had 12 inches where I farmed in Wales, which is why I never thought seriously about it. 

Workshop projects for the next issue

Being confined to barracks means no farm visits, which are the backbone of each issue of Farm Ideas.

The new issue will be done via farmer contacts, with pictures being emailed and the story from phone calls. It’s not impossible, but clearly depends on farmers finding the time to volunteer.  

A fencing trailer is needed on every farm. This one is featured in the current issue   and carries all the tools, a lot of wire and a reeler, posts and rolls of netting. If your fencing tools are all over the place this could be the coronavirus project which stands the test of time

Please contact me if you have a workshop project or idea which can add to our content. Where ever you are!   M:  07778877514   

 the farming optimiser - since 1992

 4,500+ ideas devised by working farmers

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus: how long will livestock marts remain open?

I wonder how long livestock marts will be permitted to continue?  It’s a fast moving story. The disease is in escalation mode, schools will be closed from this Friday. The question on many livestock farmers' minds is whether livestock marts will follow suit.

Farmers who use marts might be asking what the near future holds, and so I asked the NFU what their take was on the marts remaining open. Their reply seems as if they are expecting life to stay as normal. 

So auction marts movements shouldn’t be disrupted but obviously we’re now being told to avoid busy public places – we’re just advising farm businesses to take the lead from the advice that’s given by the authorities.” 

was the response from their press office. If the advice changes the result would be considerable. Video auctions are a likely substitute, conducted by existing companies and new ones.   

Two livestock marts close doors

In the past couple of days we hear that two marts in N Ireland; Saitfield in Co Down and Armoy on Co Antrim have stopped sales “with immediate effect” on Mar 16, “in the interest of health and safety of our customers and staff… their health is our main priority” In NI the mart at Ballymena is having a normal sales calendar in line with government recommendations.

The Spring selling period might be a problem

Buyers and farmers wanting to move stock on before spring are making marts very active. While marts in England, Wales and Scotland are continuing to trade, all are restricting visitors to those directly involved buying and selling. Like many marts, Melton Mowbray has spread its wings to hosting various food fairs, sales of all kinds, including fur and feather, and even weddings, and these are all cancelled. Concern about closure might have contributed to their busiest day ever with 650 cattle and 4,500 sheep. 

Viral soup in Chinese markets 

UK livestock marts need to be concerned because it's the markets in China which have been fingered as the source of the coronavirus disease. In Wuhan bats and snakes are possible culprits. The markets sell a wide variety of live animals which are bought for immediate slaughter and consumption. Numerous species in cramped conditions are good for viruses to mutate. 

China has been the source of many zoonotic disease outbreaks, where a virus jumps from animals to humans. The growing popularity of wild animals for food is barely regulated in China and other parts of Asia. They are brought in from the forest and there is no regulation. Poor regulation in markets means that diseased animals are penned in close proximity to healthy ones of different species. At a recent conference former WHO specialist Dr Jonathan Quick said “When you have this viral soup and you have a collection of pigs, poultry and bats, such as in the Wuhan mart, you have a perfect incubator for novel disease.”

Practical Farm Ideas

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Low cost lamb warmer takes little time to make

Made it Myself ideas for early January

LAMBING is just around the corner, and this lamb warmer will come into its own. 

Instead of a static box that's away from the ewe, here you move the heater into the pen. 

The barrel holds the heat and when the lamb gets strong it can walk out and get a feed from mum. 

The creep gap stops ewes from getting in. 

Heat is controlled by adjusting the height of the lamp. 

You can also fit a timer switch so it goes on and off. 

It's so cheap you can make as many as needed.

Before switching on get someone to check your wiring:
1.   to see the power is connected to the correct terminals
2.   to make sure the cables are routed out of reach of sheep so they don't chew
3.   is connected to a circuit breaker 

Other equally simple ideas for January:

*  Waste oil drainer and collector

*  Slurry pipe handle

*  Large spanner holder

The current issue, #111 Vol 28 issue 3  carries 41 workshop projects

The cover story:

Irish farmer has fitted two cameras on his front mounted mower. Turning onto the road is now 1000% safer.

The finance article:

Getting a financial grip:  Managing farm borrowing

Get this issue as the first of your subscription
   only £18.50/year  which includes postage. 

Best wishes

Mike Donovan, editor & publisher   website updated Dec 24, 2019

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

BBC food documentary targets livestock farming

‘Meat: a Threat to our Planet’: A travesty of a documentary

BBC's Liz Bonnin was shocked at what she saw
This programme shown on BBC 1 on Nov 25 2019 featured Liz Bonnin. Liz is a clone of TV investigator Stacey Dooley. They  are both highly concerned with global issues and travel the world looking for and exposing them. The Guardian commented on a recent Dooley programme "The sight of celebrities making weepy 'personal journeys' towards understanding poverty has begun to feel more and more crass, especially where it overshadows the people whose experiences they’re meant to be understanding in the first place."
In ‘Meat: a Threat to our Planet’ Bonnin travelled round the world to showcase the impact to the world environment of intensive livestock units.  From the run-off of manure;  the consumption of feed imported from Brazil and the consequent destruction of the Amazon rain forest; the use of fish meal in animal feed which has decimated stocks of anchovy and sardine - she linked meat production with global devastation. Her answer was to stop eating meat.

Liz Bonnin missed the target 

Bonnin could have told us that over 90%
of US beef comes from feedlots, while in UK it is about 7%
She wanted to make the case for giving up meat on the grounds of the environmental damage done to the planet. While David Attenborough shows what a beautiful and fascinating place this plant is, Bonnin shows the damage to the earth from intensive livestock. Her problem was that she made the case through emotion: in a cattle feedlot she says “it makes me sick to my stomach”. In the plane she manages to hold back the tears. She would have had far more impact if she told her audience that 97% of the beef produced in the U.S. is grain-fed feedlot beef, while just 3% is grass-fed*. She could have mentioned that 72% of British beef is fattened on grass, and explained to her British audience that beef production has two phases, rearing and fattening, and the labels explaining how the meat is produced.
In this BBC programme facts were far less important than emotion. The idea was to drive home the message that meat is destroying the planet - “we may not be here much longer” - and the answer is to go vegetarian, which Bonnin claims to have done herself. For life? Ever and ever? Or just till the fuss dies down.
The programme failed to mention that the present size of the US beef cow herd, which today numbers 31.7 million, is significantly less than it has been. Numbers have been in decline since 1968 when they reached a peak of 45.1 million, and the last time they were as low as 30 million was in 1962, when the cattle were in fields not feedlots. Feedlot beef is shown to produce lower quantities of greenhouse gas, both  because the animals have fewer days getting to slaughter weight and their digestion is faster and less gassy.
Liz Bonnin might find the production system not to her taste, but, given these figures, to blame the sector for global warming seems a stretch.  

Where are the answers?

Brazilian agricultural expansion is clearly out of control. Rain forest destruction needs not only halting but the forest needs reinstating. There is a solution to slash and burn farming, as we featured in Volume 22-2  AUG - NOV 2013, but who takes any notice? Global organisations as well as TV directors are interested in shock horror which raises huge funds from a public raised on a diet of alarm.

Global management of rain forests 

There is a solution to the Amazon rain forest. In the same way that individual farmers will manage their land to suit their own purposes, countries with rain forests will manage their territory so that the politicians remain in power. The world needs to apply both carrot and stick to the rain forest countries to steer them to value their natural resources, especially rain forests. 'Carrot' in terms of developing their industry away from the production and processing of farm produce, helping their economy move away from agriculture. 'Stick' in terms of sanctions based on the way they manage, or fail to manage, the resources under their control. If the USA can apply sanctions on Iran for the developments they are making to their nuclear programme, we can surely do the same on Brazil for their Rain Forest management. And the developed West could allow similar controls on the resource which it uses and misuses...
Amazon rain forest being cleared for grazing cattle

Animals have been around longer than feedlot cattle

The Bonnin answer of imploring people to give up meat is no solution. The evidence is sketchy. First, the herd figures don’t coincide with rates of global warming. Second, there is no explanation of the fact that this planet has been home to millions of cattle, sheep and other ruminants long before the discovery of oil. The phrase ‘horsepower’ is no accident. Horses were used to transport people, goods, turn pumps, and with oxen tilled fields and powered agriculture. They all burped and farted, and their numbers were huge. Yet the growth and following decline in their population doesn’t appear to have influenced the earth’s climate.

Meat price is the control mechanism

If Bonnin wanted to blame global climate change on meat consumption she needed more facts and less rhetoric. There is one way to force a decline in meat consumption and that is to increase the price. The price will go up if supply is reduced. Supply will be reduced if the costs of production increase. Growth promoters and in-feed antibiotics reduce the cost of production, so globally stopping their use would be effective. Planning permission for livestock expansion, controls of livestock farming, there are a million and one ways to prevent the industry expanding - should that shown to be necessary. But Bonnin wasn’t looking for answers, only sensation. Her’s was a drama fabricated from partial facts and images. There is a lot that farmers can do to be more friendly towards the environment, but this programme unfortunately provides no incentive for them to act.

*  According to Dr. Dale Woerner, assistant professor with the Center for Meat Safety & Quality at Colorado State University.

In 2004, Bonnin was locked in a giant kennel along with MPs Paul Burstow, Evan Harris and Ivan Henderson and actress Liza Goddard, BBCNewsround presenter Lizzie Greenwood and DJ Becky Jago in a stunt to launch the annual RSPCA Week to raise awareness and funds.

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Current issue #111 Nov 2019-Feb 2020

Farm safety; 'Made it Myself' beef housing; farm borrowing interest rates

A double camera system means you can see traffic approaching from both left and right. The idea comes from Niall Murphy who farms in Co Armagh, N Ireland. If you're into beef, pages 39, 40, 41, 42 show what you can do with crash barriers. Pg 26 has an article ‘Reasons why the beef situation in Ireland is critical’. The financial piece on 21 makes sobering reading about interest rates, which have never been so low for so long.

Information and bright ideas are going to be crucial in future years as the transition period leaving the EU progresses.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Water bowser puts out crop fires

NFU Mutual warned us last week of the dangers of crop fires. Ripening 
cereal crops are getting dry and the extreme sunlight is ready to ignite some
tinder dry material. 

Their warning reminded me of a neat idea which Geoff, a Midlands farmer
with land close to dense housing estates, prepares each season as soon as 
crops look vulnerable to fire, whether caused by sunlight or youths with matches.

His home made 3000 litre water bowser for the sprayer has a stainless tank 
which came from a nearby brewery that was being rebuilt. It mounts on a single 
axle chassis with good tyres. There's a Honda pump fitted and a long hose,
an on-off valve, and a jet end. 

When the corn ripens the tank is filled and the bowser parked in the yard for
a quick get-away when the alarm sounds. Geoff is generally on the scene
well before the brigade who have people to collect and much further to travel.
The fire is often out by the time they arrive.

This is one of 50 cost cutting Bright Ideas featured in the Vol 19 - 2 issue of
Practical Farm Ideas published in August 2010.  

Why not read the other 49 stories?  Or, why not be wise and subscribe? Then
you'll get 150 or more ideas like this four times a year.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Oxford: Gove tries to please everyone

FARMWORLD  Practical Farm Ideas  Issue 26-4  Feb - May 2018 

More from FarmWorld will  be posted in due course

Oxford: Gove tries to please everyone

The two January conferences in Oxford run concurrently and Michael Gove was the first environment secretary to make the short dash between the events. Oxford 2018 was an important stage for the start of a new farming era, and Gove provided his audiences with forward looking policies which will take over from increasingly discredited present EU policy. At the OFC he provided big farmers, big agri, and their advisors with some comfort when he extended the transition period for subsidies to 2024 (Liz Truss had extended the 2019 exit date to 2022), and then telling those ‘real farmers’ at the ORFC meeting at the Town Hall that he will not only be introducing new environmental directives but will also be driving a change in food production systems. “It is about the health of our families, our nation and the costs placed on our National Health Service”.

Gove is a master wordsmith. You can see him revelling in the shape and sound of his delivery, and it makes the task of any reporter that much easier when the words hang together like his do.
Of course the key question is if it makes sense as well, and the people in both conferences largely seemed in agreement that it did. They have come to realise that Defra after Brexit will be very different. In fact, the CAP in EU27 will be very different after Brexit - something forecast by some EU agri officials just a few days after the critical vote. The money won’t be there like it has been. 

A glance at the subheads of his speech has the reader wanting more:
The age of acceleration - what does it mean?  am I missing out?
A state without the means of change is without the means of conservation - Gove says if farming can’t make change then it is never going to improve the lot of the birds and bees.

The Secretary floated the idea of a Department of Wellbeing linking Heath and Defra, and told his audience that Health and Defra were talking more than ever to find and exploit common ground.
“Ours is the first generation where more people succumb to non-communicable conditions than infectious diseases. The rising dangers are obesity, diabetes, coronary failure, cancer and deteriorating mental health, and diet plays a part in all these conditions.”

He was critical of the CAP in both conferences, claiming that the present system drives up land prices “creating a barrier to entry for innovative new farmers and entrenching lower productivity”.
He wants to make the system much easier, with schemes “simplified to the extent that any farmer can complete an application in a working day. Starting at the computer after breakfast the whole process has to be able to be finished by six o’clock, when it will be time for a well-deserved pint.”

He was very critical of the present farm inspection system currently with RPA, Natural England, The Animal and Plant Agency, Environment Agency and the local authority all requiring information with much overlapping and little if any co-ordination. The inflexibility and fear of penalty means inspection of precise field dimensions, location of trees and so on “in a near-pointless exercise in bureaucratic box-ticking”.

On trade he said “we are confident in building a new economic partnership with the EU that guarantees tariff-free access for agri-food goods across each other’s borders. We have a deficit in agri and horticultural produce with the EU27. Irish beef farmers, French butter and cheese producers, Dutch market gardeners and Spanish salad growers all have an interest just as, if not more acute, than Welsh sheep farmers or Ulster dairy farmers in securing tariff-free access between the UK and the EU.”

Under the heading ‘Paying for what we value’ Gove said “Take the vital question of soil health. Min or no-till approaches, which require less expenditure on inputs and keep more carbon in the soil, are both economically more efficient and environmentally progressive.” and went on to say that the CAP’s focus has led to “decades of damage” in the form of soil erosion which costs the UK economy around £1.2bn a year. Out of the CAP we have the chance to reverse “this unhappy trend”.
Gove’s writing abilities - he was a journalist in Aberdeen prior to parliament - came to the fore in each section of his speeches: “I am moved by the beauty of our natural landscapes, feel a sense of awe and wonder at the richness and abundance of creation, value wild life as a good in its own right, admire those who work with nature and on our land, respect the skill and passion of farmers, growers, shepherds, stockmen, vets and agronomists who provide us with high quality food and drink, and I want to see them prosper.” He has the happy knack of creating a quotable quote in virtually every paragraph.
The press view of Michael Gove, over a video link to the press room. The OFC listened politely but unsure how to repsond. Afterwards he went to speak to the REAL people and his comments were greeted with whooping.

At the OFC
The political and economic climate remains predominant at the OFC, and while Michael Gove gave plenty of information, Ted McKinney, the top man from the USDA managed to reveal far less. We learned of his Irish and Scottish roots, love of Britain and his support of the special relationship. He got tetchy when chlorine washed chicken was mentioned, saying the practice hasn’t been used for more than a decade. Where McKinney failed on facts, Prof Dieter Helm from Oxford, made up for them in abundance. Helm, who has been advising Defra, gave an excellent fact filled presentation which put some of the farming facts in context. Flanked by NFU posters which reiterated the oft-repeated message
“Farming meets 61% of the nation’s food needs and forms the bedrock of the UK food and drink sector which contributes £112bn1 to the nation’s economy and provides 3.8 million jobs.  Farming makes a significant economic contribution as well as caring for our iconic British countryside and putting safe, affordable British food on tables across the country.”
The Oxford professor spelt out the realities of UK farming outside the EU, but concluded there are lots of reasons for being extremely cheerful about the future of farming.
The Prof says there are two things of real importance to farming. 1. the understanding and translation into policy that we can’t go on depleting the farming environment. 2. Brexit means the end of the CAP and farming covers 70 - 80% of the UK land. Benefitting the natural environment means changing the course of direction, and the proposal of a joint policy for farming and environment into one will, Dieter Helm believes, be very beneficial. Natural Capital has become the most important driver of policy, and the idea is clear to farmers because it is what their work is all about, for it’s what nature gave us for free and what farmers use for production. The depletion of the assets of water, land, soils, air jeopardises the future.
On trade Dieter explained that agriculture is very small in relation to the rest of the economy. UK agriculture output is £9bn, which is approximately 0.7% of GDP. The CAP subsidies are £3bn. In addition the sector has other advantages and implicit subsidies: the special inheritance tax deal; the red diesel deal; a special business rates arrangement; it doesn’t pay for the pollution created in the way other sectors are forced to do, and it does not pay for the consequences of the wider environment. 100 years ago agriculture was where economies were at but today they are extremely small at least here in Britain, and the net contribution, after subsidy, is miniscule. Helm recognises the scale of the food and drinks industry, but points out that the two are separate. Many countries have a big food sector with little or no domestic production (eg Swiss chocolate, Italian coffee? ed).  Helm says this is a fact, not a criticism, but one which is relevant to any discussions and decisions taken in Whitehall. 

Negotiations with the EU27
Unlike popular belief, the EU and USA are part of a very protectionist trading framework, and the market which really counts for Britain is the EU. Without that market the trade negotiations are the most important part of the negotiations with the EU27. 
The ending of Pillar 1 payments, Dieter says, is inevitably going to happen. But nobody so far is talking about the capitalised losses - such as a decline in the value of farm land - which Helm believes is sure to happen “it’s basic economics”. This will put farms that have borrowed heavily against their asset values in some risk. He told the conference he was recently interested in buying a farm on Exmoor, the asking price being around £5k /acre for poor rough grazing which has a very low earning capacity. He believed the value is inflated by subsidy, and if it were removed the value would drop considerably.
He says the present system of farming subsidy provides public money for private goods which conflicts with the usual system where it is public goods that are supported. Helm agrees that Pillar 2 payments provide for public good, but not in an efficient way. People other than farmers should be able to bid for environmental projects on farmland.
Pollution: in other sectors if you cause pollution you are required to pay the cost. In farming, he said, there’s a different notion which says that farming has to be paid not to pollute or damage the environment. Hence stewardship schemes that help reduce the reduction of birds, insects and wildlife. 

The future of farming.  This is an area where there are lots of reasons for being extremely cheerful. It is the turning point where we have the end of the disastrous CAP in sight. CAP has not served the environment well, or farmers.  Land values will normalise to reflect yield.

Practical farming
The conference moved away from farming politics in three sessions on Jan 4. The first was an innovative farm extension service that has been running in East Africa; the second and ingenious way of identifying points on the globe using a code of just three words which sounds impossible but has the backing of $millions; doing the Hands-Free-Hectare, the well publicised development which they have been working on at Harper Adams University.


This is the world’s largest knowledge-sharing network for small-scale farmers, lets farmers connect with one another around the world to solve problems, share ideas and spread innovation. Farmers can share crucial livestock and crop knowledge, request creative low-cost farming methods, or ask questions relating to any type of agricultural input or output — without having to leave their farms and without needing internet. Utilising the latest machine learning technology, WeFarm’s service works both online and over SMS. Knowledge shared on WeFarm can help farmers to produce higher quality product, increase yields, gain insight into marketing pricing, tackle the effects of climate change, source the best seeds, fertiliser and loans, diversify agricultural interests, and much more. The free service allows farmers in East Africa to share info via their mobile phone SMS connection - no need for broadband. The example was given of a farmer finding grubs destroying a maize crop.

More than 100,000 farmers now use the service across Kenya, Uganda and Peru, with more signing up daily. Investment is led by LocalGlobe, founded by former Index Ventures partners Robin and Saul Klein, and the scheme bolsters the fast-growing UK agtech sector.
Said Kenny Ewan, CEO says “Our mutual belief in the value of peer-to-peer knowledge and shared commitment to creating sustainable initiatives for farmers through the latest technologies – are sure to produce great results.Approximately 500 million small-scale farmers around the world provide over 70% of the world’s food. However, up to 90% have no access to the internet and they are often isolated and lack access to even basic agricultural information and new ideas. With the world’s population projected to grow from 7 to 9 billion by 2050 and climate change an entrenched reality, increased pressures on the global food supply chain will only persist. Farmers and businesses without access to problem-solving technologies and data are at risk of being left behind. By sending a free SMS, farmers can receive accurate answers to any agricultural queries. The service uses machine learning technology to connect incoming questions to those users on the system who have the most relevant knowledge. Topics discussed on the network range from how to stop baby chicks from dying to where to find a market to sell onions.

Considering it’s ‘off-grid’ nature, end users have used the service a huge amount; sharing more than 15 million pieces of information. In 2015 WeFarm was part of the Wayra UK accelerator in London, which supported the business in its growth trajectory.


This is a location service which pinpoints any global location using a code of three words. Farmer’s son Chris Sheldrick, the company CEO, explained that he and the W3W team have created a virtual grid of 3m by 3m squares across the whole world, with each having a distinct three word code which can be recognised and identified by a mobile phone app. The trios of words are assigned to the 57 trillion or so 3x3m squares around the globe. The small size of each square means people can be directed to the front of a building rather than a vague post code, and this occurs in every country. The front of a building will have one What3Word code and there’s another for the side or rear. The words are in English but random, which means that mistakes entering them will not result in a nearby place but are obvious. Once entered into the phone app directions are produced in the same was as a Sat Nav. Except the destination is far more specific. Farmers can use it to locate a gateway or specific shed and instruct deliveries or visitors to the three word coordinate.

Testing it on the location of our farm near Llanboidy (  produced a map showing only the lane and the streams, no buildings, house, hedges or other features. Pinpointing the house or shed needs knowledge of the yard area.

However the person using the three word code tooth.polished.recorders  would be taken to a point somewhere very close to the house or yard. It’s a million times better than the post code.
Sheldrick adds: “We see our service being most useful where current methods of describing location (e.g. postcodes or ZIP codes) don’t do the job well enough or don’t do the job at all — but of course it has applications as a preferred alternative even where the existing solutions do a decent job, but perhaps less precise/customised than w3w.”

Chris’s farming background underlined the problems of finding places and directing contractors to fields which can be some way from the home farm. Remembering three words is considerably easier than using GPS coordinates.

The service has wide applications for taxis, deliveries, emergencies and just pinpointing a meeting place in Hyde Park for example. In farming it has the potential to identify field gateways, sheds, wet patches in fields, areas of weeds such as blackgrass, the location of a sick cow in a field… and many others which can be thought up.

Lunching at OFC
Both Google’s Open Location Code and TomTom’s MapCode offer novel grid solutions which do much the same thing as What3Words, but perhaps in a less refined way. Post codes are by no means the only grids available, thought they are the most commonly used as they are in daily use and easy to remember. The main requirement is that they work reliably and with a variety of different systems. W3W is limited to iOS9.0 or later on iPhone, iPad or iPod and also with Android. The service is free for certain users but for others there is a charge.

Hands Free Hectare  

Harper Adams engineering lecturer Kit Franklin introduced the conference audience to his baby and explained that the guidance methods are based on drone technology. The budget for their first crop harvested in 2017 was £200k, and the equipment on the tractor was around £10k.  Kit asked why it is that an annual subscription to a guidance system can cost £14k.
The second crop has been planted and they are hoping for straighter drills, improved yields which compare more closely with those published by AHDB in their lists.
“When we drilled our spring barley earlier this year, the tractor was a bit wavy and so were the drill lines. We’ve had six months to develop the system and we’ve seen improvements which will improve field coverage and ultimately yield. The tractor was still a bit wayward when turning back into the field, but once it’s on the line it was really straight with pass to pass cover greatly improved.”

Oxford REAL builds its fan base

Conference Manager Nessie Reid said: “We are delighted to announce the ORFC 2018 programme – packed with practical farming know how and debate ranging from Brexit to systems change, to wildlife friendly farming.

The plenary showed delegates the extent of this 6 stage conference. Colin Tudge explained how in the last 20 years farming has come to realise the limitations of science.  Helen Browning, head of the Soil Association, also was a speaker. 
“Industrial agriculture is one of the largest contributors to biodiversity loss and climate change. There has never been a more important time in the history of humanity to implement farming systems that not only provide us with fresh, clean food, but which also support soil health, our water and the biosphere. I believe the ORFC is a collective beacon of optimism for envisioning and working towards a bright food and farming future.”

With over 700 farmers and people from across the industry registered for the two days, organisers coped well with the numbers and though Oxford Town Hall appeared busy, it was a pleasant and friendly crush.

Most farmers said they had done some pre-planning so they knew where they were going. The multi-stage programme was well organised, allowing people to follow their most interesting topics through the day. The variety of topics is best shown by the programme from 4pm on Day 1: Main Hall - Whatever is happening to the world’s insects?  Assembly Room: Post Brexit farm support, how should it be governed. Old Library: What we eat and how we eat today; Council Chamber: What animals want: learning and delivering welfare science; Long Room: Sticking at it; St Aldates Room: Farming, renewables and diversity - can it be a win-win? Christopher RoomDelivering diversity at farm scale. Multiply this programme by the 7 main sessions over the two days and you can judge the impossibility of giving a meaningful review.

The ending plenary looked at the event in the round. Founder Colin Tudge said that before the first one he was told it was not realistic. At the time all serious farming research was done by academics, and farmers’ experimentations were dismissed as uncorroborated and lacking evidence. Today the same detractors are competing for funds from Farmer Innovation groups.

Tudge is sceptical about the Gove promises on environment and reform of policies, and Martin Wolf of the Financial Times told the ORFC “nothing in the Gove programme couldn’t be done with the UK remaining in the EU”.

Allowing these two pilgrims to sing 'God speed the farmer' was a brilliant break from the agenda

The conference mood remained at high pitch as they heard a superb rendition of God speed the Farmer and, at the end, the hall was coached to ’Sing John Bull’. Nothing like some community singing!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Facing up to the Challenges

Facing up to the Challenges

Brexit is just one of a number of challenges facing farmers in the next few years. Farmers have the choice of listing future problems, analysing what they may mean, and then planning for the future - what ever that may bring. Or else they plan to go on pretty much as they have been and don’t see the point in planning for an uncertain future. 

Delegates at the winter conference on Nov 15 of Worcester based agricultural accountants Ballards were given a presentation by Practical Farm Ideas editor Mike Donovan who told them that a head in the sand approach is unlikely to work too well over the next few years. The signs of change are just too great.  Mike told the delegates “It is a racing certainty that Brexit will result in changes to the trading relationships in food and agri products with European countries. Of course we don’t know as yet now what these will be, and it may well be many months before anything is decided. But the chances are that farm economics will become tougher for many farmers.” 

The packed hall had farmers, and accountants, fascinated in the detail of methods to improve farm efficiency -  agricultural productivity 

He went on to point out that the Brexit trading relations with the EU are just one part of the uncertainty. Another is the direct payment subsidies which make up half of UK farmers’ income. Once out of the EU the UK farm support will be directed from London and all the signs are for a major reduction. The price of oil, together with interest rates are further major issues which will impact all farmers, whatever their enterprise or efficiency.
Mike was explaining the contents of this slide - all practical ideas which make farm work easier, cheaper, safer

Drill down and there are other additional challenges: farmers will face continuing controls over inputs: products like neonics and glyphosate, recently given a five year reprieve - a subject in itself - are both under a microscope which is being operated by the public and politicians with limited knowledge and others, like antibiotics and other products may well be more closely controlled. Livestock regulations are very likely to change. Housing cattle and access to outside loafing areas, ducks being given access to water for swimming and splashing… it’s a dense and growing minefield which the farmer will have to negotiate. 

What should farmers be doing now, in this time of uncertainty?

Advisors all tell farmers they need to become more efficient. What does this mean in practice?  For decades farmers have been led to think efficiency means investment, new machinery - a new tractor and plough which gets more work done in the hour.  Farmers with ambitions and helpful bankers will go ahead and make sure their farming is bang up to date. Others will resist the lure of efficiency and be happy with the way they are doing things at present.

Mike went on to explain that farmers have improved efficiency without spending a fortune. His slides showed a great many successful adaptations and home made machines and implements. 

* a cheap pick-up fitted with 650mm tyres that run at 9ps. It is a great substitute for the ATV with the slug pelleter and is used for many jobs.  

* an in-field calving box which makes a better job calving a 250 cow suckler herd outside. Making it easier to secure the cow means reduced calf, and cow, losses. 

* cluster flushing done with a system that was home built ten years ago has massively reduced mastitis - one slide shows the herd’s annual NMR summary with zero mastitis cases in a 140 cow herd. It cost £2k to make. 

* using worn-out Astro-Turf for cow tracks.

* installing vent pipes in grain is like putting in pedestals into a full grain store

* converting an old dumper truck to a self propelled hoe for sugar beet - and many other possible applications

* a hitch that fits the front of the Manitou handler

* converting an old grain trailer into a batch crop dryer

* security locks for a Land Rover Defender with Ifor Williams canopy

* the Farm Ideas workshop miracle - using candle wax as a releasing fluid. Heat and apply a candle and the wax finds it’s way between the rusted parts

* making a removable link box for your ATV

* silage is covered by tyre mats made by bolting 6 x 3 rows of tyres together

* how to wash a field water trough. Keep them really clean and give the cattle uncomtaminated water

Farming with biology. 

Soil loss pictures. Cover crops; direct drilling; home built direct drill based on Bomford cultivator; crimper roller

Farm Safety needs a total re-think. 

We now work iin the most dangerous industry there is. 30-40 people killed annually; 15,000 have injuries that require a hospital; Pictures show a  disabled young farmer’s wheelchair ramp to get into tractor; a home designed power step to lift a disabled driver into cab. Positive pictures: a handler for dual wheels that means they get used when they are needed; orange beacon on an ATV; garden designed into a child’s play area; trailer safety brake; front mirror looks down the road; ATV link box stops flip over. 

Today’s interest rates allow farmers with the right set-up access to capital. Last week I met a farmer who that day had fixed a £1.5million loan fixed for 12 years at 2.5%. It sounds like cheap money - yet the interest is going to cost nearly £40k a year, so he’s looking for a return of £75k. That’s not going to come from replacing new kit for old.       

What can Mr Average Farmer do? 

Improving the outcome of tasks - which can often be achieved with some simple adjustments to procedure and machinery. Many advisors fail to recognise this. They front up innovations such as the new mini robots before they have been used commercially, and with no economics and figures attached to them. Professors and others compare them with robotic milking parlours without saying anything about the huge differences. The only thing they share is the word robot. 

The advice is to search out and apply great simple ideas. The funds at risk are incredibly small. Mike mentions the effects of aerating grassland, using the one he built in 1988. A 30% increase in grass production by year 4 from a machine which cost £250 to make (say £1,000 today) and costs no more to tow around than a roller is a no-brainer as they say. Yet very few farmers have taken the initiative and made one for themselves. And that’s the problem - 90 per cent of farmers will only make changes when they see everyone else doing it. The simpler the idea, the longer it takes to get used. 

The presentation went well, and the email in thanks 

Hi Mike

Thank you so much for coming last night. It was great to meet you and the feedback on the talks has been fantastic. I hope you got back safe last night.

I will have a check with the venue regarding the box of cards and let you know.
In the meantime, I would really like to keep in touch and hopefully meet up again.

Thanks once again for a fun and informative talk.
Best Wishes

Steven Jones BSc (Hons)
Business Development Director
Ballard Dale Syree Watson LLP
Tel:      +44 (0) 1905 794504
Fax:     +44 (0) 1905 795281