Gwyn Jones - Farm Diary

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NOT only is it well and truly spring, but we are enjoying weather more akin to May; in March! For me this is an early spring and the best sort possible, as the clay is now dry enough to travel with wide tyres on the tractor everywhere, and we are drilling grass seed into some of our pastures in order to improve them and counter any weed grasses in the sward.

With such a dry spell, it must rain in April, so we are flat out getting dirty water out on the silage fields with the vacuum tanker, and looking to apply the second dressing of fertilizer to the remaining silage fields.

More youngstock can go out soon, as I have enough grass, but am I sure that there is no twist to this weather?

It is certainly warm enough, and the grass will continue to grow from now on; it’s just a case of making sure that conditions don’t change totally due to relentless rain.

I see some cows out up and down the country, although I think some of that is due to empty silage clamps in some cases.

The lambing season has certainly had a wonderful time, and I have yet to meet an unhappy sheep farmer; as prices remain very good in the sheep sector.

Proof positive that spring has arrived in my post box. I am again bombarded with leaflets which urge me to use an additive on my grass silage; warning me of the grave consequences of it all going wrong.

I have used additives over the years, but found that it makes little difference, other than the bank balance.

Sunshine and ensiling the grass in good conditions are the essential tools in making good grass silage, and if the grass has wilted well in order to concentrate the sugars, then the silage should be really good.

However, the ‘advice’ from those selling additives claim that the ‘invisible losses’ in the clamp can be reduced, that intakes next winter will be up, and more milk will be produced.

In this time of high cereal and protein prices, it is more important than ever to make the best possible grass silage, they say. I don’t disagree with that, and of course we are not in control of the weather.

‘Use an additive as an insurance policy’, is another statement. Trouble is, as all inputs have risen so much, do I want to spend on something I can do without? Or is that a risk I should not take?

Which of the tens of additives would I use? They all make different claims, and all claim to have the best strain of lactic acid bacteria which will guarantee me the best silage.

If I get the operation wrong and mess it up, will the additive save the day I asked? No, was the reply, but it will make well made silage better, with aerobic stability in the winter which will minimise wastage. Not exactly convincing.

Tesco has raised its price paid to its dedicated group of farmers by a further 1.6 p per litre as from the 1st of April, to 29.78p in total; an all time high.

Many of the cheese producers have also increased prices paid to farmers by well over a penny, as things begin to catch up in the dairy industry. It’s not before time, and hopefully there is still a little way to go on cheddar prices.

We have just had a victory for commonsense in agriculture with government; over the case of the ‘immigrant’ sheep-shearer.

Traditionally, every year quite a few Kiwis and Aussies come over to the UK for a few weeks shearing. They are on average the best sheep shearers in the world (although we have a few handy lads in this country too), but all this was under threat due to the government clamp down on immigration.

It was pointed out to government officials (most of whom wouldn’t know much about sheep!), that not only are these lads here for a short season of shearing, but many of our own clipper handy lads go down under in the autumn to lend a hand and earn a shilling whilst enjoying the trip.

I went along to listen to the great and the good last week discussing immigration, as I have more than a passing interest, given the seasonal workers needed by horticultural businesses, and poultry and indeed dairy these days.

So what are the facts? What is the reality behind all this fuss?

Historically, migration was a phenomenon of the new world, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in particular. We were, as a country, in the business of exporting people (some by force!) looking for a better life elsewhere.

We did of course have migrants too, and benefitted enormously from them, but it all seemed under control.

Since 1989, with the fall of the Berlin wall, and further expansion of the EU, things have changed; in particular opinions and media coverage.

The share of ‘foreign born’ in this country, is still very low by comparison with other countries, but it is growing.

What is really interesting is that immigrants to certain countries come from very different, specific countries, and are vastly different in education and qualifications.

Only Finland and Denmark have immigrants and descendants that are as well educated as immigrants into the UK.

The strange thing is that government count them all in, but don’t count anyone leaving this country.

We don’t therefore know what our ‘net’ immigration is.

Some of the myths that are pedalled in the media were shown to be false by economists who stated that immigrants on the whole are 60 per cent less likely to receive state benefits and live in social housing, and pay 37 per cent more taxes (direct or indirect), at a time when the UK ran a budget deficit.

Now we are to cap the highly skilled people and students coming to study in our universities.

This will not only potentially harm the economy in this time of increase competitiveness in international markets, but what of our universities?

Having been dealt a blow in the cuts, are they to suffer more if overseas students are capped?

The truth is of course that government can do nothing about EU migration, and therefore students from overseas are the biggest part of non-EU immigration; hence the focus.

I learnt that the problem is ‘bogus’ colleges and therefore ‘bogus’ students.

Whilst I understand the concern, and of course it is something to put a stop to, I was surprised that no one knows how many of these ‘bogus’ establishments there are, and a huge discussion ensued with massive disagreement over the scale of the problem.

This overshadowed the debate somewhat, and the real issue must surely be; is a student a migrant in the first place? I would have thought a student coming over to study, is due to return to his or her country at the end of those studies, and is therefore not a migrant?

I do understand that some students stay on to work for a year or two in some cases, but we know who they are; don’t we?