“So – what should we do now - that is not a question that I expect to hear in early August from an arable farmer, but like everything else this year, things are not operating normally.
Unbelievably, we finished harvest completely on August 7. Last year, we did not start until August. The very strange situation in which we find ourselves is down to the prolonged drought that we have had in this area for months on end.
Although the crops are lighter than usual because of it, frankly, I am surprised and very grateful that we have any crops at all. We are certainly luckier than some, and for once, our clay soils have proved to be a godsend, as they have retained moisture from the very wet winter weather, whereas some of the lighter soils have dried out so comprehensively that the crops have died, rather than ripened. The crops won’t be breaking any yield records this year, but it is a great relief to know that what we have is safely in the barn, and we feel very fortunate to have them there.
Although Rob jokingly wondered what to do now that harvest is officially over, in reality, there is always plenty to do. He has been helping out with corn carting for our business partner, and baling some late hay for another friend, in between some machinery repairs and helping me to nurse a rather poorly terrier.
Tommy, our little terrier, has excelled himself this time round for getting into trouble. Last year, we were appalled when we discovered that he had been gorging on ripe plums, and managed to pass 15 plum stones in one sitting.
Determined to prevent any mishaps this year, Rob carefully fenced off both the greengage and plum trees, leaving plenty of room for ripe fruits to fall inside the fence. We were therefore astonished when Tommy appeared to be very unwell a few days ago, and was promptly admitted by our vets as an in-patient, where he spent the next four days. With various X-rays and scans proving inconclusive, he finally needed an operation, and one solitary plum stone was located, which was well stuck.
We can only assume that he managed to retrieve a stray greengage during the high winds at the beginning of the month. He is home again now, and recovering, but it has certainly given him a bit of a shaking, never mind the worry and upset that he has caused the rest of us.
I can never quite understand why it is that during a drought, my favourite plants seem to wither and die, whilst the weeds continue to flourish. However, with temperatures of up to 36 degrees C in recent days, even the weeds have succumbed this time round. It has been hard for the harvest teams to continue bringing in the crops – even though there has been satisfaction that nothing would need drying this year. Thankfully, modern tractors and combines all have air conditioning in them these days, which has made a significant difference. Against that, there has been the heightened risk of vehicles over-heating, or a stray spark from some metal on a flint in the ground running the risk of a field fire in these tinder-dry conditions. I think that the humidity has been the most trying thing to live with, although Rob did notice on a couple of occasions at the beginning of the month that the hygrometer in the farmyard registered zero humidity, which is something that none of us remember ever seeing during all our years of farming. I must admit that when the storms arrived and the weather finally broke, the relief was palpable for all concerned, knowing that sleeping would be a little easier at night again.
I think that 2020 will be memorable across the world for all the wrong reasons. As farmers, it will probably be one of the most unusual and one of the earliest harvests that we will ever experience, probably only being marginally beaten by the big drought of 1976. With beans ready to harvest at the end of June, instead of late August, and harvest completed before the first week of August is over – we are certainly living in strange times.