To many people we are only visible during our critical harvest period from late June to early August. However, to achieve a continuous harvest programme twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, a great deal of planning needs to take place over the year. As has often been said the pea harvest is the culmination of ten months of hard work. Involving meticulous, precision planning that leads to an almost military operation across the fields of Lincolnshire.
Following the analysis of the previous harvest and discussions with our customers, planning the next year’s crop is now in full swing. We receive an indication of volumes required and begin to confirm with our Growers what area of land we need to produce the tonnes of peas the market requires.
This is when we meet the companies that provide us with pea seed. It is vital to give an indication as to what we need for next year because the seed in some cases has to come from New Zealand and the west coast of America. This obviously takes time and we like to have seed on farm by the end of February. Various meetings take place this month with the rest of the industry to share the crop experiences of the previous year as well as looking at future research needs.
It’s now time to complete the Drilling Programme. Within this there are many factor to consider. Whilst most of these have a scientific basis, there is also the vital factor of experience. Peas planted at the same time on different soils grow in different ways. This is usually down to temperature. Fields at, or near, sea level, will grow quicker than those planted at altitude. We grow about fifteen different varieties which again, if planted on the same day, will reach point of harvest on different days. The planting must be staggered. Given we can only deliver a set amount of tonnage each day at harvest, we also have to take account of average weather patterns. If there is such a thing!
Probably our quietest month. There are industry meetings again this month looking at the results of trial work carried out by the Processor and Grower Research Organisation (PGRO) and how those of a benefit can be put in to practice. As is inevitable with long term planning there are a few tweaks that need to be done to the Drilling Programme. The pea seed that we need to plant next month begins to arrive on farm.
As we come out of winter our attention turns to the planting of the peas. The early light land soils are ploughed and we begin to take soil temperatures. Due to its nature light soils warm up quickly and growth can be quite rapid. When the soil temperature is over five degrees Celsius we start planting.
Planting continues as we complete the fields around Grantham, Sleaford and Lincoln, before moving over to the highly fertile silt soils just north of Boston. We take the maximum and minimum temperatures every day. This allows us to calculate how quickly or slowly we can plant the peas. The high the temperature, the quicker we can plant.
The peas are now going in to the best quality land that will hopefully produce the highest yields. Patience and care is needed because if we plant too quickly we will not have the ability to freeze or can the peas at harvest and some may go over the top. It is also vital to keep monitoring the earlier pea crops and check for any pests and diseases that could affect crop quality and yield.
In a normal year we complete the planting in the middle of May. With temperature and humidity rising it may well be necessary to protect the peas from aphids, moths and disease. Whenever possible we avoid the use of pesticides and use natural products instead to combat the threats to the pea crop.
Attention is now turning to harvest which usually starts in the last week of the month. This of course is governed by the temperature and sunlight. Meetings are held with the factory to go through the season’s plans and daily loadings. The Pod Squad come together for a training day and an update on any Health and Safety issues. It is now time for the sampler to start. Getting up at 3am each day he or she will visit up to ten fields a day across Lincolnshire. A large bag of crop is gathered from each field and taken back to be tested for its tenderness. The machine used is surprisingly called a tendarometer. We get a reading and make our plans for the next 48 hours.
In the thick of it now. Each day merges into the next as we harvest 24 hours a day. It is hard work but we are lucky to see many glorious sunsets and sunrises. There is a lot of information to bring together so we can make our daily plans. Field sample results, weather and even traffic conditions. It is a huge logistical exercise. Harvesters need maintaining and cleaning on a daily basis, but we must keep to the plan of harvesting about 300 tonnes a day.
We are nearing the end of a harvesting adventure around the fields of Lincolnshire. Usually finishing during the second week of the month. Man and machines are now getting tired and as the last few fields come ready an almost party atmosphere beings to develop in the field. Once we have finished, sometimes a couple of machines go off to help neighbouring groups. Other than this it’s back to base for a clean down.
Having now caught our breath there is a chance to evaluate the season. No two seasons are the same but we can usually learn a few lesson from the previous few months. “Every day is a school day.” The harvesters are stripped down, thoroughly cleaned and go back to PMC Harvesters for their overwinter overhaul. Our thoughts now turn to the next pea crop and plans are formulated!