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Gaddesden Estate News April 2022

During the winter months there has been little to report, without repeating the regular work of machinery and building maintenance. Now the spring has come, the wild daffodils and primroses are brightening the woods and hedges and the land begins to wake up from its slumbers. The blackthorn blossom has appeared and soon the cherry blossom will be here as well. Shoots are beginning to show on many trees and underwood, what is known by the woodman as ”flushing”.

Arable Farming
The winter wheat and oats have come through the cold, dark months well and look promising, though our experimental planting of wheat into a clover “living mulch” in Great Almonds has yet really been able to show its potential. We have taken the opportunity of the recent dry spell to start our spring drilling and we now have sown Bingham’s Bottom and Elmtree Park with spring barley intended for malting (beer or whisky). We still have more barley to sow in fields at Hawbush Farm, and also a block of linseed.
Nearly all 2021 harvest produce has been shifted, though we still have a lorry load of barley and a little wheat to go.

We do not have any of our own livestock, though, two of our neighbours, Reg Cornthwaite and Breeding Vision graze sheep on Gaddesden Park and our organic conversion fields. The latter business also has cattle, in particular the Longhorns, which have been housed for the winter at Hawbush and in due course will grace the water meadows between Water End and Great Gaddesden. Overall, this means that we are effectively a mixed farm, albeit predominantly arable.

While on the subject of farming, I cannot avoid mentioning the conflict in Ukraine and the general economic situation. Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, oil and the raw materials for fertiliser. These all have a major effect on the agricultural sector. Tractors use a lot of diesel when working the land, while conventional crops are highly dependent on fertilisers, nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. The cost of these commodities has in some cases quadrupled. Fuel price rises are well known, but for the last load of farm diesel we ordered the supplier was even unable to quote us a price, and we await both the delivery and the bill with some trepidation.

On the plus side for the farmer the value of the commodities grown (which are traded globally, with the markets typically in dollars) have increased substantially, though this is bound to affect the prices of bread in the shops in due course.  With all of these price rises both for inputs and outputs it increases working capital requirement for the cropping year and means the financial implications of, for example, bad weather events risk being that much more severe.  For the time being we are continuing to plant our crops largely as normal, but it isn’t for the faint hearted!

Our local Forestry Commission officer came recently to go through the proposals in our new ten-year Forest Management Plan from 2022 to 2032. We have a continuous series of what used to be called “Plans of Operations” since the first one begun by Sir Thomas Halsey in 1957. While we have permission to fell predominantly ash trees in New Gorse, this highlights the problem we have with “Ash die-back” disease, about which I have written on many previous occasions. We are hoping to get much of the ash felled as part of the regular thinning and harvesting programme, rather than resort to very expensive tree surgery.

Horses and the Ride
With the summer ahead we are putting ride and jump maintenance on our work programme prior to the first of these on 8th May; they follow on 3rd July, 14th Aug and the Charity Ride 11th September. Booking as usual is through the Equo website

Estate maintenance
We have completed the redecoration of the Home Farm House, prior to re-letting, both inside and outside and entirely rearranged the garden with new beech hedges, shrubs and trees. Two other properties have had new oil tanks installed for their central heating.  Following the recent storms, there have been slates, and tiles to replace and gutters to repair, as well as a large number of trees to tidy up.