Unsurprisingly weather has been the main focus of 2012, starting with no water, head in hands wondering how we would be able to grow potatoes and maize on such dry ground, to having the wettest drought on record – Mother Nature certainly knows how to make mischief!
The majority of the potato harvest is in, although in 2011 this was all done and dusted by the end of October! There is about 30 acres left to harvest which we will attempt to do as soon as it is dry enough, yield is down on previous years by about 30%, which has meant higher prices – the potato market works on a supply & demand basis. We were pleased with our maize and consequently so were our customers – we put it down to the chicken litter we spread on the land! Our new chicken house with viewing gallery was completed in April and has proved a hit with our visitors and ourselves – high point of the year was having it filmed for Countryfile. At least chickens are not weather dependent.
Personally it has been a busy year for us with a multitude of meetings from NFU commitments to a rolling set of chicken management courses, LEAF events, Chicken & Potato development groups etc. We have also had many social events most notably John & Anna’s wedding and Jeremy’s xxth birthday. Claire went through a rigorous process to become a 2013 Nuffield Scholar, so will be spending a lot of time abroad over the next 18 months studying “How does the broiler industry need to change to feed an increasing population”. Our biggest surprise was when attending Sainsbury’s Farming Conference we won the “Best Carbon Footprint” in the Sainsbury’s Chicken Development Group category – we were absolutely over the moon to be presented with this award.
What a few months we have had, it is hard to remember all that has happened.
We have had two amazing school visits to our farm in October, one visit was the whole school (all 120) and the other school was years one & two (60). The days took the same format of being split into groups for three difference activities namely environment, potatoes and chickens. Environment was taken by the wonderful Rob Waldron exploring the ponds, arboretum, maize or sheep (depending on which visit). Potatoes were graded and discussed with Angela Cliffe of Greenvale who is also a British Potato Council ambassador, surprising how many children don’t eat potatoes but like chips & crisps! Chickens as usual were viewed with Claire looking at what the children had at home to grow and what the chicken had in their house to develop. From the letters and cards we had back from the schools it appears that everyone had a great time including us and all our superb helpers Wendy, Susie & Cordelia.
Since July Claire has been applying for a Nuffield Farming Scholarship which has entailed some nail biting moments including an interview in London with a panel of 10! To our delight Claire has been selected to be one of the twenty two people to be a 2013 Nuffield Scholar. Claire’s subject to study is “The broiler industry – has does it need to change to feed an increasing population” with this she can travel the world to find the answers – initial thoughts are to explore America, Brazil and Ukraine’s broiler industries to get a feel for the biggest and the up & coming. To be a Nuffield Scholar you are expected to travel for 8 weeks, participate in industry seminars, training courses and conferences, and at the end of 18 months to have prepared a report to be published and give a talk at the Nuffield conference to explain your findings. All very exciting stuff.
Potato harvesting is still our priority, although the rain we had yesterday and today will put us back even further, last year we were all done and dusted by the end of October, what a difference in just a year. You will start to see in the shops prices of potatoes (and other foods) starting to increase due to the weather conditions, we have seen a 30% reduction in yield, small potatoes, damage from slugs, rotten potatoes and this from fields we can harvest; as of today we still have a further 55 acres to harvest which is proving incredibly difficult. As you can see from the picture below we have struggled to get trailers out of fields – this trailer sadly went over even though we had about 1,150 hp worth of tractors trying to pull it out.
Looking back at previous blogs it appears that all we do is talk about the weather – too much rain or not enough, never happy! Nick was interviewed by Radio 4 (You & Yours) to discuss weather conditions, being teased that in his last interview he was worrying about the lack of rain and then two days later it started and didn’t stop. It is hard not to talk about it when it is such a major factor in all the work we do, however we will do our best to have a weather free blog.
August has been a month of keeping on top of blight spraying for potatoes, helping with 2nd cut silage, moving chicken litter to customers ready for spreading later and being rather social. We had a close friend’s 50th birthday party, John’s wonderful wedding to the beautiful Anna, meals with many friends and a trip to Lyme Regis to see candles on the cob (5,000 candles lit around the harbour followed by a firework display).
The middle of August saw the return of our (potato) grading team which to us says Autumn is about to arrive, two fields of potatoes have already been harvested, graded and moved. The coming season will be an interesting one, weather conditions have reduced usual yields through smaller potatoes, growth cracking (potatoes split under stress as they grow giving deep ridges in the skin – which supermarkets don’t like) and mishapes due mainly from potatoes growing together.
Through Freedom Foods we had a fascinating meeting with 2 Japanese delgates from the Ishii Group. Aparently Japan do not have any standards when producing chicken and they are interested in setting something up in a similar fashion to how we do it in Britain. The purpose of the visit was for them to see how in practice we implement the standards set by Freedom Foods – it was extremely interesting for us to hear about how they rear in Japan and a bit of an eye opener for them as to how we do it here.
Nick’s father (Roland) returned to England for a week as he was honorary President of the West of England Hound Show which was held at the Honiton Show on the 30th August. We spent a very enjoyable day walking around the show (in wellies!) watching all that was going on and trying to work out which hounds we thought would win – not a very good sucess rate! We were invited by Roland to join him and his friends for a delicious and well needed lunch in the organizers marquee. A good day was had by all.
September should be busy with the potato harvest, ground work, drilling, school assemblies, NFU duties, meetings and hopefully a few social events.
When will the rain stop? Unsurprisingly the ponds are full, at times more than full – at least the wildlife on the ponds seem to be enjoying themselves!
The local division of Rainbow, Brownies & Guides had organised an evening with us last week to have a camp fire on which they could cook food – sadly the rain prevented this from happening, instead they had fun in one of our barns, we will try again next year.
Rain and humid conditions are proving very trying with blight conditions for potatoes – we need to spray to prevent blight from ruining the potato crops but by travelling in the fields we are creating huge ruts in the soil, which will have an impact when we come to harvest.
Our newest chicken house is already on it’s second crop of chicken – don’t know where time is going! The new viewing gallery is being used almost on a weekly basis with visitors curious to see how the chicken are growing.
Had a couple of days up in East Yorkshire visiting a pig farmer (incredible place) and were supposed to have a day out at the Great Yorkshire Show – yet again rain stop play, so instead we had a lazy morning and travelled home slowly! Crossing fingers we hope to get to the Welsh Show next week, will see if rain stops this as well.
Looking forward to the Olympics sadly no tickets came down to South Petherton – think we will be watching loads in the comfort (and dry?) of our home!
6 Months of organisation along with wonderful weather made our 1st Open Farm Sunday event a day to remember. 920 people came to visit our farm on Sunday 17th June 2012 to find out what goes on behind the farm gate – lots of fun!
We threw open our gates to the whole farm to explain and educate how we produce food and look after the environment.
Once arrived, collected maps and a family quiz from reception there were tractors (vintage and new), combine harvester, potato harvester, dung spreader, cows, sheep, pigs (very sleepy!), goats to see; opportunities to chat about potatoes, go on a farm walk, dig for worms, look at 40,000 young chicks through our new viewing gallery, find out about bees, walk around our lakes & arboretum, watch a thatching display and take part in a “Tossing a Sheaf” competition – which we understand became a great contest!!
Having done all of this, there was the reward of something from the barbecue, a cream tea, a cold beverage or an ice-cream – or for those who spent the whole day with us maybe everything?!
We would like to say a massive thank you to our 50 wonderful helpers who gave their time for free and also our visitors who turned out in force and without whom the day would not have been so enjoyable. THANK YOU
On Tuesday 24th April whilst having a school visit we were fortunate to have Countryfile down for a day’s filming. The day was a great insight on how you can film for a whole day to only have 3 minutes shown on TV! Adam Henson made us feel at ease in a situation we are not accustomed to. Filming took place in our new chicken house, viewing gallery and around the farm – it was all shown on Sunday 6th May. We are extremely happy how it came across and would like to thank the Countryfile team for showing us in a positive light. Thanks also to all our colleagues, friends and family who have been very vocal with their support and positivity about the whole event.
On Friday (13/04/12) Nick was interviewed by Sarah Swadling from Radio 4 Farming Today discussing the implication of the lack of rain. The interview can be heard tomorrow (16/04/12) at 5.45am – the comment on radio 4′s website this morning is “Drought warnings for South West England and the Midlands as the dry weather continues to affect wildlife and farmers. Potato farmer Nick Bragg is urgently hoping for more rain in Somerset to improve his dry soil.”
In the last ten days we have had:-
115,000 chicks delivered and now warm, dry and very happy, completely unaware of the weather outside
895 children have listened to Claire’s school assemblies about the Countryside Code
70 farmers came to the 1st Potato Council SW Open Day hosted at Frogmary Green Farm – shame it was wet, good attendance and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, thank you to New Farm Restaurant for a fantastic two course hot lunch
25 children came to the farm to learn about chickens and eggs – whilst being filmed by Countryfile (please watch Countryfile on 6th or 13th May to see what we do)
Finishing with a NFU meeting with Agricultural Minister Jim Paice – discussing farm policies
On a wet and windy Sunday we are now having a well earnt rest!
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