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Combine Harvester Fire - Meon Valley Times

We had a very lucky escape on the evening of August 8th - when our combine harvester caught fire.

Bolts on a gearbox sheared, causing it to move and start to rub on another metal part. The heat from the friction set fire to chaff in the combine, and it all got very exciting very quickly!

Sometimes Lady Luck is on your side - and she was definitely helping out that night. I had taken delivery of fire extinguishers and fire blankets that very morning to keep at home in case of a house fire, and you can imagine my reaction when Richard called to say that the combine was ablaze! I knew where the kit was!

With a high-speed drive to the field and some quick action, we managed to keep things under control and prevent the field from going up in flames until the local fire brigades from Bishop's Waltham and Botley turned up. We were mightily relieved to see them, and a massive thank you for turning out so quickly to help us. Ours was the third combine fire they had attended that day (the weather was exceptionally hot) and thanks to our on-hand extra extinguishers, we were luckier than the others.

A quick return-on-investment calculation:

  • Cost of the fire extinguishers and blankets: £157
  • Cost of replacing a combine and a field of wheat: £157,000

A jolly good investment with lucky timing I would say!


Other (less exciting!) farm news

With his recently-repaired combine, Richard harvested our spring beans yesterday, which means that the only crops still standing on the farm are red millet and white millet, which we hope will be ready to cut next week. This year, the beans only yielded just over 2.5 tonnes per hectare, compared to over 5.5 tonnes per hectare last year; this is purely as a result of the really difficult growing conditions this year.

Harvesting spring beans

Although our spring beans yielded poorly, the quality is excellent. Last year, they were very dry when harvested, which causes them to shatter as they pass through the combine, making them unsuitable for human consumption. This year, our beans didn't shatter and there is a chance they will end up in a can in someone's kitchen! Failing that, they will probably be sold to Scottish fish farms, who use beans as a plant-based protein source for their farmed fish.

Naked oats

Our naked oats were high in quality (which is good news for your garden birds) but low on quantity (not such good news for us because they are in great demand). They have now been double-cleaned, which most other bird seed companies don't do, and they are already being delivered to our customers all over the UK. An exceptionally speedy and efficient farm-to-feeder process: 3 days in total.

Yields across the board have been poor, and the general consensus in farming is that this has been the poorest harvest in 40 years. However, we were luckier than most farmers; we managed to get our main crops - wheat and spring barley - harvested and into the shed before that period of bad weather in August, so they came in dry and in good condition. We experienced 2.5 inches of rain in a single day, and with that kind of torrent, one would expect significant water run-off - but there was no run-off! We put it down to the positive change in soil structure, which is due to our minimum-tillage soil management.

Probably the biggest disappointment of the year (as those who read my monthly newsletters will know) was our oil seed rape, which yielded a paltry 0.4 tonnes per acre; very disappointing considering Richard has held the world record for growing rape (although he didn't realise it at the time) for a yield averaging nearly 2.8 tonnes per acre. All down to the devastating effects of the cabbage stem flea beetle.

However, even after this disaster, we have decided to give growing OSR another go. We are going to do it as cheaply as possible by broadcasting the seed (back to the old-fashioned days), then raking it and rolling it. Broadcasting is cheaper than drilling, and because it is a free-draining chalk field, we don't need to loosen the soil before broadcasting. If the rape is attacked by the flea beetle this autumn, we won't have invested so much in the crop - thus mitigating our losses.


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Saying goodbye to Lily

Our little dog Lily passed away suddenly on Saturday morning. She turned up on our doorstep as a stray in August 2009 and decided this was where she wanted to live, and has been part of the family ever since. Never one to miss a photo opportunity, she usually appeared somewhere in all of our farm photos. It is very quiet without her since she spent a great deal of time 'welcoming' people to the farm by barking at them - but people who knew her knew she could be won over with a doggy treat or two! She was a great character and we will miss her hugely.

Lily the dog

With very best wishes

Enjoy your birds