The 2019/20 winter must have been one one the most challenging UK farming has had to endure for many years. We've recently had the wettest period of weather on record with particularly severe flooding affecting the North and West.
But even in the South East farmers have not been able to get on the land as it's been so wet. While the 2019 harvest was fairly usual in weather terms it quickly turned wet as we went into autumn and the rain has barely stopped since.
Our climate is changing and the weather with it. While climate describes the big weather picture, the trends of rainfall and temperature recorded over months, weather is the day-to-day rain and temperature that we record to understand our climate. Weather has an immediate effect on farming, harvesting, land preparation and drilling. Climate will affect the types of crop we can grow in the long term.
Last autumn we should have been drilling crops for harvesting this year but it rained so much that many crops couldn't be sown. Look around and you'll see the outside of fields with no crops growing, where the headlands were just too wet to drill. Many fields were not drilled at all because it was just too wet to drive a tractor onto the land.
Many farmers will therefore have drilled more crops this year in the spring, such as barley, sugar beet and peas in March and more frost-sensitive crops like quinoa and lentils in April. These spring crops will often yield less and some cases bring in less money for the farmer.
However recent years have seen generally warmer spring and summer weather that have helped trials and production of crops not recently grown in the UK on a significant scale.
Peter Fairs has been growing quinoa for well over 10 years, while we've worked with a group of farmers to trial and develop production of lentils over the last 5 years. Last year Henry Raker grew a superb crop of chickpeas for us in Norfolk's Breckland.
Chickpeas and lentils are both mentioned in Culpeper's Complete Herbal, a guide to the "vulgar herbs of this nation" written by Nicholas Culpeper and first published as The English Physitian in 1652. This remarkable book contains many other gems of information such as dropping the juice of the teasel leaf in the ears to kill worms, heal fistulas and remove warts. Indeed according to Culpeper it seems most plants remove warts.
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2020 was a difficult year in many ways and for many people. At the Bean Store we struggled with long hours, uncertainty and anxiety. But we were also incredibly lucky. We continued to trade and had our health where others were less fortunate, and we had time to reflect, re-group and make new plans. We’re really looking forward to 2021.