Harvest has started and for once, we’ve started with the wheat because the oilseed rape is late this year due to the pigeon damage earlier in the year.
The grain store was swept out, the tractor and trailers checked over and the weather forecast consulted even more frequently than usual. Last week Bill did a few “farmer’s bite” tests on the wheat, where you take a head of wheat and rub it between your hands to thresh it out, blow away the chaff and then bite on a grain to discover how hard it is. While the grain is soft then it’s not ready but as soon as it’s hard to the bite then it’s time to do a more scientific moisture test to see if it’s dry enough to combine.
On Sunday afternoon it was decided that the wheat was ready to harvest here at Slamseys Farm and the contractors arrived to start the 2013 harvest. The combine first cuts around the outside of the field enough times to make a headland to turn on and then works methodically across the field. When the tank on the combine reaches 90% capacity, the flashing light signals the tractor driver to pull up alongside the combine as the spout comes out and the grain is unloaded from the combine into the trailers. The wheat is then tipped into a big heap in our grain store and from there will be loaded into lorries to be taken to the central grain store of the co-operative where it’s weighed and tested. If necessary the wheat will be dried and then stored in optimum conditions until it’s sold.
The contractors have now moved with their combine to another farmer and will return next week (we hope) to cut the oilseed rape and wheat on our outlying land.
Harvest is the culmination of the past year’s work and it’s always a fraught time, especially as we can’t control the weather that can make or break harvest, so it’s good to have part of the crop already cut and stored. As farmers, our job is done and the wheat passes down the line for others to process – the grain store, millers, bakers and food manufacturers of all sizes and then to the shops and markets for everyone to buy. It’s a good feeling to be part of the team that feeds the country, even if the UK is only 62% self sufficient. Do you realise that if all our home produced food was put into store on 1st January, then today is the day we’d run out? Scary.