At this time of year I can’t cycle very far without stopping to take a photo. These photos have inspired a brief introduction to local summer crops with the help of former farm manager and semi-retired agricultural journalist Andrew Blake.
The most common arable crop in the UK and around the world – without which we would not have bread, pasta etc. However wheat’s not for everyone. If you find it causes you digestive problems try PP reader Tim Clarke’s Wheat-Free Muesli Recipe that includes the next crop below.
Linseed & Flax Crops
Linseed is a less common UK crop but is sometimes favoured by farmers after a wet spring. It is grown for it’s seeds because they have a high 40% oil content and linseed oil has many uses. It is very nutritious being high in Omega 3 fatty acids and also does wonders to cricket bats apparently. In my opinion the smokey blue linseed fields also look much more attractive than the prevalent yellow rape we have around here – but I doubt local farmers are going to change their crop choices just to please my sense of aesthetics!
Flax is a variety of linseed used for it’s fibre and is seldom grown in the UK. There are two main types of fibre – long, fibres for linen making, and short fibres which are an industrial ingredient eg in sound insulation in car door panels and in leaded light cement (thanks to local leaded glass repairer Mark Brock for that insight!).
France and Belgium are the main producers of the long fibres and according to Andrew several UK attempts to break their market stranglehold have failed, mainly because UK growing conditions aren’t really suitable. Also, although conditions here do allow short fibre production, the UK flax industry, despite various support schemes, has failed to get off the ground. It even includes a case of suspected fraud when a production plant in the south-west of the country burned down leaving many farmers with no market for the crops they had contracted to grow.
Pulses are peas, beans and lentils (which don’t grow here). Fields of peas and beans in this area, and in most of the country, will be harvested by combine harvesters in the same way as cereals ie once the plants have died and the pods have dried. Most peas and beans are milled and used in rations for livestock adding protein (which is much lower in cereals). However some are used as seed peas (to grow more pea plants from) and some are sold whole, for example for use in cooking and as snacks, and there is a good export market for such beans in the Middle East.
The only places where peas are harvested in their green condition are in the eastern counties where very large specialist machines, called viners, gather the crop, separate the peas from the haulm and deliver them to lorries to be conveyed to freezing plants, for example at Birds Eye. There, to avoid deterioration, they are critically frozen within just a few hours of harvest. Farmers use readings from a ‘tenderometer’ machine which test the tenderness of the peas in the pod to guage when to harvest the peas. For a video about how peas are harvested see this Farmers Guardian article about the ‘quest for the perfect pea’