Bramleys just too big to serve up as a baked apple

Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary
Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary

Very warm weather courtesy of ‘Hurricane Fay’ made the last few days very pleasant, although some heavy rain filled the rain-gauge once more.

Grass growth continues apace as we go into the second half of October, but soil conditions are now making it almost impossible for any late crops of maize to be harvested for the time being. The few apples which are around this year seem to be enormous! There was a one and a half kilo Bramley apple featured on the BBC’s Farming Today programme on Saturday morning, and our own Bramley’s in the garden are averaging over half a kilo and are too big to serve as a baked apple to any individual.

The clay is very wet now but over at Tillington the lighter ground is in its element with a huge amount of grass to be eaten over the next few months; no sign of rust in the new growth which is good. There are a few weeds around in the fields though and they will need dealing with in the spring.

I was over at the Welsh Dairy Show in Carmarthen last week which was well attended and busy. It is a few years since I last attended the show and it has certainly grown in size and stature, with many trade stands inside and tractors and machinery outside, enjoying a dry day which was fortuitous.

I met many dairy farmers of all ages, and given how difficult it used to be for dairy farmers in Wales historically, I was really surprised at how positive they all were. Many young farmers are pushing the industry forward and investments are being made with quite a few farmers in Wales entering the dairy industry for the first time, some with sizeable herds.

There were no protests or any rumblings of discontent from the farmers I spoke to although there is some nervousness about future pricing and how long it will be before we see signs of recovery.

The general comment was that we need to look at our costs and make sure we maximise our contracts, and many did acknowledge that costs have crept up a bit with the higher prices of late which will now need to be trimmed.

In England protests have continued with ‘Iceland’ the latest target, having lowered the price of four pints to 89 pence on the shelves. Farmers For Action (FFA) leader David Handley believes that protesting is having a positive effect and was joined by NFU President Meurig Raymond in his criticism of Iceland’s ‘promiscuity in the marketplace’.

The Russian ban on dairy products is causing real problems as it coincides with a global market downturn due to oversupply and weakening demand for dairy. Since the sanctions against Russia were introduced in March by the EU and USA, President Putin has retaliated by banning food imports, but British manufacturing sales to Russia are down by over £600 million on last year, which is a decline of 18%.

Russians are set to increase their own dairy industry as they enjoy the fortress approach, and as Europe miss out on what has been a huge growth area for exports, it has hit not only dairy but fish, cars, and of course the natural resources sector such as the petroleum companies.

Meanwhile in France over the last few weeks there have been protests against their first large scale dairy as environmentalists and the ‘Confederation Paysanne’ (Peasant’s Farmers Union) and others have gathered outside the large dairy farm in the Somme area.

It is planned and built to house 1000 cows and has an Anaerobic Digester which will produce electricity, but the owner Mr Ramery has already halved the number of cows and the amount of electricity exported, but to no avail. The irony is that amongst his backers are six local dairy farmers who say that this represents a brighter future for French agriculture. Protesters however call it the Americanisation of our French countryside, and an insult to the peasant farming tradition.

Following this column’s comments on grey squirrel burger competition last week, I was interested to hear that Prince Charles has ordered a cull on his estates. Prince Charles who is of course Patron of the ‘Red Squirrel Survival Trust’ knows that the red squirrel has been wiped out in most of England by the grey, and is coming under threat in parts of Scotland.

There is a wealth of scientific evidence to support the case against the grey squirrel introduced to this country in the late 19th century, from catastrophic damage to young trees, carrying the ‘pox-virus’ which kills the red squirrel, and preying on the eggs and nestlings of endangered birds.

There are also moves which were initiated by Owen Patterson when he was Secretary of State, to toughen England’s policy on grey squirrel control, who was shocked by the Forestry Commission’s lack of action due to grey squirrels being popular with the public.

Government’s policy to increase woodland cover from 10% to 12% of England’s land area by 2060 is under threat as farmers and landowners are refusing to plant broadleaf trees as they think it rather a waste of time whilst grey squirrels destroy them later on in life. As the cull takes place and more action is taken, it would make sense not to waste such healthy meat?

A flock of sheep at Mersham in Surrey were allegedly ‘high’ and unsteady on their hooves after consuming several bags of grass-like plants dumped in their field.

These turned out to be cannabis plants which had been thrown over the hedge at ‘Fanny’s Farm’ which police estimated to have a street value of £4,000. Nellie Budd who runs the farm shop commented that ‘My sheep were not quite on their backs with their legs in the air, but they probably had the munchies’.

The diet industry is in disarray following a study which suggests that ‘crash-diets’ are more likely to shed excess weight. An Australian study published by ‘The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology’ seems to show that the strongly held belief that rapid weight loss is associated with equally rapid weight gain afterwards is not true.

Out of two groups of people losing weight over a 12 week period and over a 36 week period, 86% of those on a rapid loss regime reached their target compared with only 50% on the long term diet.

Sadly having lost the weight, both groups later regained most of it; however after two years both groups were still on average 5% below their initial weight which will reduce their risk of mortality by 6%.

I must comment that having listened to all and sundry complaining about the National Health Service and how bad it all is, my own experience of late where I needed to see a doctor in my local surgery twice over the last month has been excellent.

Both times I rang up in the morning and was offered an appointment on the same day; that to my mind is first class service.