Frustrated East Anglian farmers wait for wet spell to pass as drilling schedules go to pot

Bill Baker at Drinkstone back in the spring of 2014. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Bill Baker at Drinkstone back in the spring of 2014. Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

East Anglian farmers are facing frustrating delays in getting their spring crops planted because of the wet spring weather.

About this time last year, farmers were facing a spring ‘drought’ - but this year, rain has hampered cultivations and drilling, causing weeks of delays.

Essex farmer Ed Ford, of Childerditch Farms, near Chelmsford, immediate past chair of council at the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, said it had been a tough time, and he was now six weeks behind, and still waiting to get his crops planted. With the planting window narrowing, it was becoming more and more possible that some fields will have to be left fallow, he said. “It’s incredibly wet,” he said.

Bill Baker, who farms at Drinkstone, near Bury St Edmunds, said it had been “a very frustrating spring to say the least”.

“We were fortunate to make good use of the brief dry spell at the end of March and managed to drill our spring barley and spring beans plus 50ha of sugar beet, which is roughly a third of our area of beet, but since then we have sat still for over two weeks watching the land get wetter by the day,” he said.

“Our heavy land needs to dry considerably before we can think about getting on with the remainder of the beet drilling.”

But, with the weather forecast looking better for next week, he was hoping to make some progress.

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“Quite a contrast from this time last year when we were praying for rain,” he said.

John Collen, of Gisleham, near Lowestoft, said he was at least three weeks behind, with 90% of his sugar beet drilled, 50% of his parsley, and 50% of his fertiliser applied, while weed control in his cereals was 15% done. “Weed control in cereals 15% this is the big one as black grass needs control while small,” he said.

Stephen Rash of Wortham, near Eye, said: “Things are well behind schedule here too. We have managed to plant all our spring malting barley, which went in a bit late and has been slow emerging due to the cold conditions.

“We haven’t planted any sugar beet yet, probably four weeks behind with that and counting. We have managed to get most of the fertiliser programme done to date , but will soon be needing to get on again.”

He said he was “quite” concerned, but not desperate yet.