Fen blow damage in fenland and west Norfolk

Fen blow - West Row, near Mildenhall

Fen blow - West Row, near Mildenhall - Credit: Martyn Cox

Fen blow has caused considerable loss and damage to crops across part of fenland and west Norfolk.

As a result a number of growers have been forced to re-drill sugar beet even when a nurse crop of barley had been sown to prevent wind erosion and damage, said agronomist Martyn Cox.

'In some of the worst blows for quite a few years, onions and beet have been lost,' he said.

Then the damage was compounded for some growers by two successive nights of severe frost last week, which hit vulnerable crops including wheat, sugar beet and even winter-sown beans, he added.

In the aftermath of the wind blow, it has been more cases of what might be termed 'February fill ditch' said Mr Cox, who runs Blackthorn Arable from his home at Earith.

It had been frustrating when growers had taken every sensible measure to prevent soil erosion and wind damage, for example at West Row fen on Mildenhall fen, between Lakenheath and Isleham.

One field shows what was left after beet land had been subjected to fen blow.

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At West Row, the barley crop had been drilled in good time but emergence was severely delayed by the prolonged cold weather. Then the beet was drilled, which would be protected by the taller crop from damage either by wind erosion or from sand blow shredding the vulnerable leaves.

Mr Cox, who has accumulated an extensive photographic archive of crops and diseases on his website, said that the soil was so dry and fine, it had caused damage to crops.

Another farmer, who had planted winter beans, was left with the exposed roots where the soil had blown.

For some potato growers on light, sandy soils, the succession of fen blows had added to the difficulties of planting. One of Mr Cox's farmer clients on the border with Suffolk had ridged the field, then the wind blew the ridges flat and when the operation was repeated, it happened again.

Although the damage was extensive in some fields, it was patchy in others.

'Four feet away it will be fine and then you get this bizarre pattern; it can go in lines, just like cloud patterns,' said Mr Cox, who has more than 30 years' practical experience advising farmers and growers..

While the frost aggravated damage, the warmer temperatures at night, will have helped crop growth.

Mr Cox suggested that the scorching effect, particularly on some wheats, may have happened because of some slight manganese deficiency.

'I think the main reason this year is the onset of very rapid growth after a long cold spell,' he added.

And if the weather continues reasonably warm and there is some rainfall, then prospects even for late-drilled sugar beet may be better.

As he recalled last year, the crop sat in the field through most of May before starting to grow more rapidly through June.

'If we can get some moisture and don't have these blows, the crops can just keep growing quite nicely,' he added.

Although there has been some re-drilling, largely caused by wind blow, crop advisers at British Sugar have not reported widespread problems.

'When it is very wet and then it starts to dry out over several weeks, there's always a risk on the lightest of soils that there will be some damage,' said a spokesman.