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Grant Reid

Coping with aftermath of Storm Babet in Scotland’s fields

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Grant Reid assesses what can be done in the aftermath of Storm Babet

This month’s update will be a bit different to normal. As I write this in the aftermath of Storm Babet, parts of Scotland are still assessing the damage. It’s bad enough where fields are flooded, but if your home has been flooded, it’s just desperate.

Prior to the storm, probably around 70% of the potatoes had been lifted, and particularly where the storm wreaked most damage, it’s unlikely the wheat that was intended to follow will be drilled any time soon, if at all.

Credit: Neil MacLeod at Southesk Farms, Brechin

We’ve now got fields that are still flooded or have been flooded and the water has disappeared but have half the riverbed lying on the field. It’s going to take a while for these to dry out and I suspect there’s going to be an awful lot of spring cropping, and that really means spring barley drilled next spring.

If drilled crops didn’t get flooded then they should be okay, albeit the soil might have capped a little through the ferocity of the rain. Where it has been flooded, it may well end up being written off although it is too early to tell as I write this.

In other areas of the country where they missed the worst of the storm, then further drilling might be possible, but it will still probably need to be decent free draining land.

Grant’s (agronomy) tips for November and beyond

1. Look after yourself, friends and neighbours

It’s been a ridiculously challenging time – I can’t ever remember it being quite this horrendous before.

So please do no struggle in silence. There are organisations that can help, like RSABI (0808 1234 555), so if you need help or someone to talk to, please pick up the phone or get in touch with them through their online chat boxes.

And pick up the phone to check in on neighbours and friends, and have a chat – it’s sometimes not obvious when people are struggling and need help. The help that has been offered so far has been unbelievable, but as the immediacy of the storm diminishes it’s easy to go back to our lives when help is still needed.

Credit: Neil MacLeod at Southesk Farms, Brechin

2. Assess fields for viability

As for crops in the ground, once possible, it’s going to be a case of walking fields, checking plant counts, etc., to see whether planted crops remain viable. Probably don’t write things off too early, and if we do get some cold frosty weather and land dries up it might not be too late to patch or sow wheat.

But if it is clearly unviable, consider what your options are for the spring. There’s likely going to be a lot of spring barley, which is far from ideal probably, but if you’re going to need extra seed then think about getting your name on what you need – there’s going to be a demand on spring seed and not just from Scotland.

An alternative, for example, where a whole load of gravel from riverbeds has been dumped in the field is to think about growing a green manure next summer to try and build a bit of body back in.

3. Consider options for still-to-be-lifted potatoes

For those that still have potatoes to lift, the situation isn’t likely to be good. Assuming at some point you can get in to lift, the longer tubers have been waterlogged in fields, the likelihood is the more significant the problems with rots and other diseases.

It will require planning on how to deal with them – how to get them dry. Some folk suggest you don’t handle rots until they’re mummified. That might mean removing as many rots as possible while lifting but maybe not putting over the dresser? It probably depends on what your markets suggest, but whatever you do, you’re going to make sure those boxes are marked and monitored very closely in store.

If you can’t lift, options could be to grub up the field and put some cattle in to munch away – I know of one farmer that has done that in the past. But I think ideally you would lift even if the potatoes go straight for stockfeed. Those livestock farmers who have lost winter forage might be very grateful.

The other side is planning how to take remedial action on some of these fields. If you can lift the chances are the field won’t look pretty afterwards. Have a plan for how you’re going to deal with that in the spring.

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