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Low crop yields in 2020 means Berkshire Farm Girl is looking forward to a more productive 2021

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ELEANOR Gilbert is on a mission to educate people about farming in the 21st century. Currently in her first year at Harper Adams Agricultural University in Shropshire, Eleanor regularly goes home to Rookery Farm, Newbury, to help out.

Eleanor explains why 2020 is a year she would rather forget, and that 2021 does not have a hard act to follow.

Eleanor checks on the mobile muck spreaders - aka the sheep
Eleanor checks on the mobile muck spreaders - aka the sheep

"From the emergence of the global pandemic to the completion of Brexit, not forgetting the extreme weather farmers faced, 2020 will sure be a year to remember.

Crop yields were depressed last year.

Poor establishment, high pest pressure and lack of rainfall in the vital growing season caused cereal yields to be affected.

According to DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) yields were 20 per cent lower than in 2019, due to wet winter planting (DEFRA 2021).

On a positive note, this year’s crops are growing exceptionally well due to prompt drilling and good crop establishment.

OSR (oilseed rape) is growing remarkably and seems to have avoided cabbage stem flea beetle this year. I am hoping to see some improved yields in contrast to previous years.

Since September, I have been studying at Harper Adams University and we remained in our Herds (bubbles) to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Like most students, I was keen to come back home over the Christmas holiday, and once I got home I stayed there due to the lockdown.

Since being home, we have been carrying out essential farm maintenance such as hedge cutting, fencing and servicing machinery.

It is critical hedge cutting is carried out between September 1 – March 1 as it is an offence under Section 1 Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built, or to intentionally kill, injure take chicks or adults/destroy eggs (GOV.UK. 2021).

Berkshire Farm Girl (46179200)
Berkshire Farm Girl (46179200)

The last of the straw has been loaded on the lorries and sent to Wales for the cattle. Livestock farmers are struggling to find enough straw at a reasonable cost to bed and feed their animals due to the shortage this year.

The remainder of the wheat has been loaded into the grain lorries for the mills.

While I was at university, winter drilling (sowing) was finished and the autumn fertilising was completed.

Eleanor checks on the mobile muck spreaders - aka the sheep
Eleanor checks on the mobile muck spreaders - aka the sheep

Our mobile muck spreaders – aka the sheep – were put out on the turnips. Sheep are grazers – they go around eating the turnip tops (leaves) leaving the bulb, once the tops have been eaten, they will then go back for the bulb.

They will have completed a vital job naturally adding nutrients (nitrogen) to the soil, which reduces the use of costly artificial fertilisers, such as Urea.

Signs of spring have been evident all around – the crops are crisp green and tillering.

I encourage you to go out to the countryside, look at what’s growing in fields or maybe grow your own fresh produce this year?

The harvest is approaching and I can’t wait for the long days of hard work to feed our country."


DEFRA 2021. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. [online] Available here [Accessed 9 February 2021].

GOV.UK. 2021. Countryside hedgerows: protection and management. [online] Available here [Accessed 9 February 2021].

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