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Shiplake Farm Bulletin May 2017


The gardeners amongst you will have noticed that April has been a very dry month, we usually expect roughly fifty millimetres of rain in April but this year we have had less than five.  The majority of the land that we farm is light and gravelly which makes it particularly sensitive to drought.  Autumn sown crops of wheat and oilseed rape have already grown deep roots and held out fairly well so far but the spring sown crops are desperate for a drink. There is very little we can do other than wait for nature to take its course.

Over the last few years you may have noticed our morphine poppies growing in the fields around Shiplake which look particularly striking when they flower in June.  Unfortunately the pharmaceutical company that we have supplied has decided to stop production in the UK.  This is partly due to the availability of cheaper imports and partly due to a gradual shift in demand for pain relief away from morphine towards codeine which can only be grown in warmer climates.  As a result we needed to find another crop to replace the poppies with so this year we are trying soya beans.  Traditionally soya has been imported however over recent years the majority of these imports have been grown with genetically modified (GM) crops which have been widely adopted elsewhere in the world.  Many European consumers are concerned about GM and as a result there is increasing demand for GM free soya both to feed livestock and for the growing market for products such as soya milk.

In March we were delighted to find out that our Countryside Stewardship Scheme application had been successful.  This is a voluntary scheme run by the government which encourages farmers to manage their land in an environmentally sensitive manner. We will be growing over ten acres of crops specifically to encourage pollinating insects such as bees which are vital for both the natural environment and for successful crop production.  Another five acres will be growing special mixtures of plants such as millet and quinoa to provide feed and shelter for farmland birds such as linnets and corn buntings. 

Article created / last edited: 10 August 2017

Shiplake Farm Bulletin - Autumn 2016


In June our Open Day was once again blessed with beautiful weather and we welcomed a record number of visitors to take a closer look at what we do.   We had a massive amount of help from the Nettlebed Farming Club and the Young Farmers but thank you very much to all the visitors, we raised £350 for Air Ambulance!

This year’s harvest got off to a poor start with disappointing yields of winter barley and oilseed rape mainly due to the dull, wet June.  Fortunately however the winter wheat yielded much better as it matures later and was able to fully absorb the sunshine in July.  As an added bonus all of the wheat achieved bread making quality which will help to offset the shortfall from the other crops.  Even the linseed did fairly well, it is the first year we have grown it for almost twenty years and we have relearned some valuable lessons for next year!

Brexit has dominated the headlines over the summer and farmers have been scratching their heads about what it will mean for them.  In the short term the weakness of Sterling brought about by Brexit has made our exports more competitive and given a welcome to lift to beef and grain prices however the long term impact in terms of farm support and access to European markets remains uncertain.   Many farmers would much prefer to operate without subsidies and the bureaucracy that goes with them however the reality is that in a global market very few British farms would make a profit without support payments. 

The current system is by no means perfect but it does compensate European farmers for following high environmental and animal welfare standards.  These standards are good farming practice which any farmer will be keen to achieve however they come at a cost and our global competitors are not restricted by them.  In return, food prices for European consumers are kept low and the public can continue to enjoy the countryside which is cared for by farmers.

Once we leave the EU it is uncertain how the British government will support farming however any new system will need to balance the needs of farmers, consumers and the environment as well as allowing time for all of those involved to adjust.

Article created / last edited: 20 October 2016