Jack’s Farming Diary – Winter 2023/24

Mar 26, 2024

Now that the first official day of spring 2024 has landed, EPC-UK’s Assistant Farms & Estates Manager, Jack Pile looks back on the season passed and tells Onsite how winter has been on both our working farms in Essex and Derbyshire: 

Wetter than ever weather

It’s been officially confirmed: we’ve experienced the wettest five-month period on record. Whilst we have had very wet individual months in the past, to have 5 in a row feels unbelievable.

The relentless rain has meant that our over winter crops at Great Oakley Farm in Essex have taken a hammering, and I’m sad to say that the crop condition looks poor as we begin the task of applying fertiliser to get them going.  The downpours have also washed away any residual nitrogen in the soil. This means that the early nitrogen applications we’ll make in the fields will be vital to get nutrients in the ground for our winter wheat crops. 

Our forthcoming job list also includes cultivating areas where crops have failed due to flooding. Once cultivated, we’ll plant a ‘cover crop’; the establishment of which will help to improve the damaged soil structure, so it’s better for the next crop that will be planted in the autumn. 

Soaring seed prices

The cost of living is affecting us all and the price of spring seed, such as spring barley, rocketed when demand from UK farmers increased due to failed winter crops. Adding to the problem, the highest ever population of migratory geese arrived in our backwaters this time around and have fed on the winter crops we planted, all contributing to what has been the most testing of winters.

Crop report

Our sugar beet crop at Great Oakley Farm was harvested during the heavy frosts in mid-January, which was three months later than planned. Disappointingly, those frosts meant we accrued a high percentage of root breakages. Despite this, a very respectable 90 tonnes/ha was achieved on some of the fields once the frost finally allowed our harvesting machines to travel mostly on the land…as you’ll see from the picture. In addition to the extra tasks that the weather has demanded be done, the usual winter jobs have also taken place, such as finding old field drains, clearing ditches, and clearing the trees that have fallen during the high winds.

The field plots we reserve to grow crops as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme have been hard at work producing winter feed at Townend Farm in Derbyshire, where our arable land will once again grow spring barley to provide malting barley for many midlands’ breweries. However, what we really need now is some drier and warmer weather to establish our spring cropping across both farms.  

I hope that in my next instalment of the EPC-UK Farm Diary, I’ll be able to report on a good weather story, where all the spring crops are brought in, up and away, and I can show you photos of gleaming farm machinery in sunshine fields, rather than stuck in the mud!

In the meantime, stay safe and go well,


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