History lesson for Norfolk farmers

Farmers have shaped the land in North Norfolk for thousands of years and especially during the Stone Age, said former county NFU chairman George Harcourt.

Farmers have shaped the land in North Norfolk for thousands of years and especially during the Stone Age, said former county NFU chairman George Harcourt.

Several fields on part of Brecks Farm, Langham, have clearly been cultivated for at least 6,000 years because extensive finds of early tools have been recorded in the past half a century.

Mr Harcourt, who welcomed about 40 members of North Norfolk NFU to Church Farm, Wiveton, said that many flint tools had been found suggesting that the land has been cropped since the Stone Age. On part of the farm, which ranges from light stony soils over gravel and chalk, it would have been a safe and secure site with good visibility and with reasonable access to water.

And on a good clear day, it is now easily possible to see seven churches and the expanding Blakeney Point from the high point of the farm. It has been run by members of the family for a century and certainly since part was acquired at the sale of the Wiveton Hall estate in 1911.

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Mr Harcourt, who stood down as county NFU chairman in February at the end of a two-year-stint, said that past glaciation during the Ice Ages had deposited a range of soils. For example there was one large pit of about three acres in extent, which was completely excavated for gravel to construct the Langham airfield during the war. There had been nine draglines working on site, down to a depth of about 40ft, to remove the narrow belt of gravel. It was apparently of such high quality that it was loaded straight into a mixer.

On the mainly arable farm, which has about 400 acres of cereals plus 30 acres of rough grazing for cattle, wild flower meadows and other wildlife areas, sugar beet remains important. Since the drastic cuts in price support, it is no longer the farm's most profitable crop.

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Mr Harcourt said that the business has a combined quota of 1700 tonnes including 230 tonnes bought last year and about 73 acres are grown. When rhizomania or sugar beet madness was confirmed in 2005, it has resulted in a switch to a resistant variety, Harry.

Sugar beet has been grown on the farm since the beginning of the modern sugar industry in the 1920s. Contracted to Cantley, all production went to Wissington last year.

About a third of the farm or some 136 acres is down to winter barley with Maris Otter and some Pearl grown for Crisp Maltings at Great Ryburgh. And the spring-sown Oxbridge, contracted to Frontier for distilling, accounts for a further 73 acres.

On the slightly heavier soils, a first year winter wheat is grown. The main variety, Robigus, is probably destined for the ABN mill at Walsingham, which is just four miles away.

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