Duncan Farrington: Deadly Black grass and bird surveys

Preparations are under way for Open Farm Sunday on June 8
Preparations are under way for Open Farm Sunday on June 8
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June is a month of preparation and a time to take stock of the season.

As well as enjoying Open Farm Sunday, we are also ensuring everything from grain stores to trailers, tractors and so on are cleaned, serviced and ready to go when harvest starts at the end of July.

On the crop front, things are looking pretty good.

The rapeseed is looking very well with the warm weather, sun and rain, making ideal conditions for the crop to grow.

The wheat also is looking great in some fields, whilst the dreaded Black grass is rearing its ugly head in other fields.

Black grass is one subject that many arable farmers will spend hours discussing.

It is a grass weed that thrives in our moist fertile soils.

However, it is extremely competitive and can reduce crops yields by more than 60 per cent in bad cases.

Over the past decade, the weed has steadily and stealthily become a major issue for UK agriculture.

Pre-1993 farmers were allowed to burn crop stubbles as a great way of cleaning up weed seeds.

This, however, also killed many other things, including insects and small creatures.

Following the stubble burning ban, farmers have relied on herbicides to control black grass, but over the years it has become resistant and now we have to look at a combined assault on the weed using chemistry, physics and biology; with herbicides, crop rotations, cultivation techniques, cover crops and so on.

So far we are at best holding the status quo and in time I hope we will start winning.

Recently, friend and expert ornithologist Dr Mark Avery did one of his bird surveys on our farm.

I didn’t see him on this occasion, as it was early one Saturday morning.

He recorded 29 species of birds, including seven on the Red List.

I can add lapwing and grey partridge, which he didn’t spot that morning.

But nevertheless, we were delighted to hear such a range of birds in one couple of hour visit.

As well as growing food for humans, we are also providing food and habitat for our feathery friends.