Celeriac Harvest

Sam Spridgen, here at Jack Buck Farms, has been flying his DJI Phantom Quadcopter whilst we were harvesting celeriac this autumn.  Again he has taken some great birds eye shots of the harvesting team on the move.

The 2014 celeriac harvest saw high yields in moderately challenging conditions. We started to harvest the celeriac in early November and with rain interruptions, it took all month to finish. The celeriac is now all safely in store for the season and being washed and packed to sell to the markets and supermarkets for the rest of the year.

Potato Lifting

We're now getting stuck into the potato harvest here on the farm. This is a busy time of year for us with the lifting of Celeriac and Potatoes happening in tandem with teams working around the clock. 

The early signs are for a great yield on all the varieties but with the dry conditions care is being taken not to bruise the potatoes at any stage of the process. This means taking things a bit slower and applying the usual care and attention that goes into all our work. Maintaining a high standard with our produce is critical. As well as the main supermarkets, we also supply into both Marks and Spencer and Waitrows who demand the highest quality of produce. We're confident that our hard work over the year will have paid off and this crop will go down well with both our customers and the end consumers.

A New Perspective on Bulb Planting

Taken earlier this year (slightly belated in the posting), this video gives a great perspective on planting our daffodil bulbs. Typically this takes place during August once the land has been prepared following the pea and wheat harvests. These bulbs will be in the ground for up to three years with the flowers cropped each spring.

The video was taken by Sam Spridgen, one of the team here at Jack Buck Farms, on his new DJI Phantom Quadcopter. As well as providing us with some fantastic footage of the farm in action, it has also demonstrated the possibilities this type of technology could enable from crop inspection to bird scaring! Always keen to be at the forefront of agricultural technology we'll certainly be keeping an eye on this emerging technology.


Cover crops - joining the debate

The Common Agricultural Policy reforms are now decided and will be in place on the 1st January. One of the side effects is that DEFRA is rewriting some of the rules for Good Agricultural Practice. We must comply with these rules and generally they are sensible and contribute to preserving our soil quality and the wider natural environment. However one new proposal to place emphasis on having a crop cover on the land at all times to minimise the risk of erosion would have a devastating impact on our farming system. My contribution to the debate...

Whilst I understand that soil erosion from excess rainfall is becoming an ever increasing problem as rainfall becomes increasingly erratic I question whether DEFRA’s preferred option of minimum national standards is sensible. Soils, topography and farming systems vary all over the country and approaches to soil erosion should vary with them.

The emphasis on cover crops in the discussion would be very damaging to mixed horticultural/arable cropping if they were applied rigorously.

  • On most soils spring cropping with small seeds requires a frost mould in the surface where the seed must have good seed/soil contact to germinate. This is achieved by winter ploughing, leaving a suitable surface exposed to frost or general weathering in the absence of frost. The land that requires the most weathering is heavier land that is generally less susceptible to wind or water erosion. Crops affected by this include amongst others:- Peas, beans, onions, carrots, leeks, parsnips, sugar beet, red beet, curcubits, some brassicas, spring barley, spring wheat and many others. Crops that are planted such as potatoes, most brassicas, lettuces, celery, celeriac, fennel and again many others will also be affected albeit somewhat less.  Crops grown without the benefit of winter weathering on many soils will be uneven, lower yielding, of lower quality, more expensive in terms of effort, cost, CO2 emissions and water.
  • Stale seedbeds are a useful technique to reduce herbicide use in many areas of agriculture and horticulture especially organic. The technique can also  conserve moisture, thus reducing irrigation need. A stale seedbed requires several weeks of bare land to be effective. Insistence on cover crops would remove this valuable method from our menu.
  • Most horticultural crops are grown on relatively flat land with less risk of water erosion. However there is still a risk but it can be minimised by other viable measures such as boundary buffers zones or soil surface amendments, double D discs or similar.
  • All farmers know what land is at risk. It is reasonable for farmers to identify this land and if they cannot demonstrate they have taken reasonable precautions for them to suffer penalties if they allow land to be degraded by erosion, be it by water or by wind.

Sugar Beet Drilling

We drilled our sugar beet last week.  We are growing just under 100 acres this year because British Sugar, our only customer, has guaranteed the price of our whole crop, not just the contracted tonnage. Normally we would prepare the seedbed with two passes of a simple harrow. This year because we have had virtually no frost over the winter the land is hard and cloddy with no light, crumbly frost mould and on the heavier land we have needed two passes with slower and more expensive power harrows, see video.  This will be a recurring theme throughout the spring and of course we can expect earlier infestations of insect pests.

Sugar beet has been an extra-ordinary success in recent years. Our average yield over the last ten years has been 89 tonnes per hectare and that includes the disastrous 2010/11 crop that was partially destroyed by frost. This is a staggering 50 per cent increase on our average yield in the nineties. I would of course like to say that this is a result of increased expertise at Jack Buck’s but in fact it is almost entirely due to improved breeding of varieties capturing more sunlight although better fungicides have played a part. Can this trend continue? Probably not, I think we will approach a yield plateau as we have with many broad acre crops. And that is a pity because the world price of sugar has been in decline for the last three years and the European price is about fifty percent above the world price, dominated of course by sugar cane, the most widely grown crop in the world.

In 2017 our crop will no longer be protected by tariffs and export subsidies, will we still be growing? I hope so because we aim to be at the top end of yields on our excellent land and there are other customers emerging for energy production in anaerobic digestion plants, which is, of course, subsidised and that is a whole new topic…..

Daffodil Cropping Today

We are cropping daffodils today; we have about 160 people cropping; mostly they are from Lithuania but around forty people are English as there is still a strong tradition of land work in and around Boston. For many of the croppers daffodils are the first job since Christmas so it needs to be a good one! It is piecework, the crop is good and the croppers will earn between £70 and £140 a day so they go home tired and happy as will our regular staff I hope. It is just about the only hard physical work on the farm these days.  The temperature will probably get to 15 degrees today with warm nights and the crop is racing along so we will be working over the weekend. This could be a worry that there will be too many flowers for the demand but so far so good.  Our customer has found another 140 million potential customers in Russia this year although I don’t suppose we will be delivering to Vladivostok. Scandinavia is a traditionally good market for us, their daffodils are weeks away yet.

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Whilst the flower market is buzzing, the market for the bulbs is less so. Daffs in the garden seem to be less fashionable for some reason and I will return to that another time. We will be selling bulbs direct again this year so if anyone wants to register their interest, do so by email (robin@jackbuck.co.uk) and we will get back to you in August.

Daffodil bulbs contain a chemical called galanthamine that pharmaceutical companies have been extracting for use in treatment of Alzheimers disease and of course I am hoping that a little bit of that galanthamine is volatile and wafts about around a vase of daffies. Now wouldn’t that be a terrific U.S.P.  So far so good for me, although my wife might not agree.