I was working in Oxfordshire yesterday and was amazed to see so many fields without a crop planted. We all know just what an appalling 12 months we have all suffered weather wise, and that many farmers did not get an autumn crop sown, but it now appears that many farms across the country have struggled to access fields in time to drill a crop this spring too.
I stood on a small hill north of Bicester and in the immediate landscape below, I counted 9 fields in “fallow” – simply ploughed and left. Multiply that up across the country and also take into account how many fields have “half a crop” growing because of flooding, slug and pigeon damage, and this harvest looks as though it is going to be well down on the average. I know that this is a heavy land area and I realize that this part of the country suffered particularly badly from prolonged rainfall, but it was the sheer scale of fallowed land that so surprised me.
I was looking at this view with the farmer who owned two of the fallow fields that we were observing. He explained that as the land was heavy clay, he has only just managed to get a tractor across the fields to cultivate them. He has decided that the best course of action is to plant some mustard before too long, simply to hold the nutrient and soil in place and to try and put a little structure back into the soil profile.
One positive benefit from this fallowed ground was that I did see a pair of Yellow wagtail, which like to nest on cultivated, un-cropped ground – so let’s hope they can harvest some broods from this ground at least!