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Farming in the Second Half of the 20th Century

Arable farming

Student with John Deere combine harvester
Student with John Deere combine harvester

James Garson implemented many changes in the landscape. Because of the large equipment they were using it was very difficult to plough small fields, so many of the hedges and fences had to be removed. There were two barns made of worked stone, one at the top of Jubilee Wood and the other in Lower Swarth, but these were no longer in use and Christ Church had them pulled down. There were also two cottages rather than one at Field Barn Cottage, now occupied by Mr and Mrs Maltby.

After the implementation of the Set Aside[1] scheme by the European Union in 1988, James Garson had a conservation plan drawn up for the land he managed in Elsfield. Keith had to leave a three metre wide strip around each field, which was time-consuming and quite difficult to do. It was decided that the money provided under Set Aside would not be enough to be worth implementing the scheme recommended by the Farming and Wildlife Group in Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

Growing crops

Keith’s farming diaries have provided a wealth of information on which the following charts are based.

The Farm Year

“The weather controls you”

February: Plough and sow spring barley. Fertilise. Spray for weeds.
May: Make silage.
June/July: Make hay. The hay was grown in small paddocks. Hay was also bought in for the cattle.
July: Harvest. Sow winter barley and Oil Seed Rape (OSR). All seed bought in for sowing later.
August: Winter wheat harvested, sometimes through to September, depending on weather.
August 20th OSR put in along with compound fertiliser P and K.
Sept/Oct. Winter barley sown followed by winter wheat.
Linseed was grown in 1999. It was put in at this time of year. (There was a five year cycle: barley, OSR, wheat, wheat, wheat. OSR kills off wireworm))
November: Winter ploughing for spring sowing.
December: Checking fences. Loading corn to go out.

Farming practices

In the 1970s, it was common practice to burn the straw after harvest. This cleans up the soil and makes it easier to cultivate. The order of work then when growing crops was:

  • Superflow to a depth of 6-8 inches. In gardening terms this is digging.
  • Use the spring tine cultivator – this levels the clods by vibration.
  • Roll to level the surface.
  • Drill: sowing the seeds. To do this you use a
  • Disc – this cuts through the soil
  • The Suffolk. This leaves a channel one and a half inches deep for wheat, barley and oats.
  • Roll with a Cambridge roll.
Having sown the seed the following work has to be done:
  • Spray weed-killer pre-emergent (rarely) or post-emergent, depending on the weed. Fertilise. This was sometimes put in with the seed.
  • Wait for the crop to grow!
  • Sometimes spray for beetle in the corn head. You had to be up by 4 am to detect this as any later and the beetle would have flown.
  • Harvest: 12-14% moisture was expected in the grain. If it got up to 20% a drier was used. This was to stop the grain from rotting. The underfloor drier in the barn had fans either side. The drying was controlled. It could not be done on a wet day as this would bring moisture in, though it could be done if it was frosty. There was a humidity detector on the fan.

The grain was kept till the price was right. It was tested every week but the smell revealed the moisture content. The grain could be kept for up to a year, but it was not usual to keep it so long.

Crops grown were barley, wheat for milling and animal feed, oil seed rape (OSR), kale (for cattle feed), grass, and in 1999 linseed.

Maintenance work

There is a great deal of maintenance work to be done on the farm. Some farms have their own workshop.

Maintenance of machinery (Some of this was done by the farm workers, some by contractors): ploughs, tractors, sprayer, discer, rotavator, springtiner, augurs (These were machines like giant tubes containing a screw which moved the grain into the silo from the harvester)
Maintenance of land: ditches kept clear; hedges lopped; bushes burnt; wet land moled (i.e. land drains were put in); acid soil limed; footpaths maintained; drives laid
Maintenance of buildings and households: plumbing; cars; painting; cleaning out sheds. Control of pests: rat traps baited; moles killed; slugs pelleted (if you put a hollow container upended in a field and counted the number of slugs you could decide whether or not you needed to use slug pellets); rabbits shot.

Chemicals used on the land in the last quarter of the 20th century

  • Nitram is a nitrogen based fertiliser which increases the yield. It is used as a top dressing.
  • Fertiliquid. Supplied by Fisons. This was a general fertiliser.
  • TCA. Suffix. Bostok. This was a weedkiller in a spray granular form.
  • Donex is a weedkiller. It was used on grass in the Hillingdons which was the worst field for weeds. It is a selective weedkiller and will get rid of poppies, vetch, corn marigolds.
  • Dicurane, a weedkiller for pre-emergent crops.
  • Granoxon. This was a weedkiller but it did not kill the roots of weeds. It was useful at harvest time, however, because it desiccated the weeds. It was a carcinogen which caused throat cancer. Keith always used a mask. It was not so good as Roundup, which had not been invented in the 1970s. It was used on couch grass in wheat in Sandfield.
  • Avenge. This became available by 1981 and was used to get rid of wild oats. Previous weedkillers for wild oats had been so expensive that it was cheaper, if there was not too much wild oats, for Keith to get about a dozen women from Marston to go “roguing” i.e. pulling the wild oats out by hand. He did this by contacting his sister who would ask around to see who wanted some seasonal work. Wild oats are easy to spot because they grow taller than cultivated oats. They were pulled out when they were about 4-5 inches tall. The price for oats went right down if the wild variety was present.
  • Chormaquat was a growth inhibitor to prevent OSR from growing too tall.
  • Tilt. A fungicide sprayed on.
  • Kerb. A weedkiller to take out the previous crop from OSR.

[1] This was a scheme brought in by the European Union with two aims: to reduce food surpluses such as the butter mountain, and to deliver environmental benefits.
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