Primroses flourish following the dank and dismal winter

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So who turned on the switch marked ‘spring’ last Friday? The garden has burst into life with hyacinths in flower, lilac budding and the magnolia tree in its full glory, but quite a worry with frost at night.

It’s been a tremendous year for primroses in the woods and roadside verges, one of the few plants which seemed to thrive in the wet and cold.

Pussy-willow, aconites aplenty and wood anenomies everywhere does herald the fact that spring has arrived. The grass has changed colour and is now preparing for a late spring burst, which will be tremendous as compensatory growth will kick in and make grazing very tricky to manage, but who’s complaining!

The incredible change to the weather has meant that we are back on slurry injection, trying to get as many acres as possible covered before cultivating the land in time to plant our maize.

It is plenty early enough as the frosts at night are keeping soil temperatures down, but soil and ground conditions improving daily.

We may well start drilling maize seed at the end of this week as we need to get on, and we do not want to prepare seed beds until we drill, as rain may return and then we would have a problem if they were to become wet.

We are also looking to see if we can inject slurry into our grass swards at Crouchlands this week.

We have never been able to do this for our first cut of silage before, but as the ground is drying out rapidly, and grass growth is so far behind where it would normally be at this time of year, there is a chance.

So seven days a week, 14 hours a day it is for everybody (Michael Gove take note) and will remain the case unless heavy rain returns; that is a major threat of course and drives us on. We also need to apply nitrogen fertilizer on our grassland, again we are late doing this but the grass has only just started to grow.

I hope to turn out some heifers this week in order to cut down on the work load and save some money. We would normally be turning out at Tillington 6 weeks ago, and they are all indoors eating their heads off and looking very happy!

The grass has turned colour and will explode in growth soon, and in order to keep in control we need to be out there eating it and maintaining quality.

If these frosty nights continue, the growth will not be there and the animals will really get on top of the grass and stifle its growth over the coming weeks; this needs to be judged accurately.

The cows are not showing any sign whatsoever of wanting to go out, very happy in the hotel thank you!

A lot of discussion is currently taking place between farmers and in the farming papers over when best to cut silage for the first time this year.

We have traditionally cut our grass at around the 20th of May, but recently with good spring growth we have been cutting earlier.

Given that the 20th of May is less than a month away, if we want to cut on that day we cannot apply too much fertilizer as the plant can only utilise it at a certain rate, but will take it up with the remainder being in the leaf unused, which will spoil the silage fermentation.

We therefore need to decide now so that the correct application can be made.

There are two schools of thought here. Cut at the usual time and take the penalty on tonnage but maintain quality, banking on the second and third cuts making up some of that tonnage and of equally good quality.

On the other hand if the first cut is delayed, it will ensure that the bulk of winter stocks is in the bag, and less dependence on subsequent cuts to make up the tonnage. However, cutting later will significantly affect quality of both cuts, as the grass will flower at the same time this year even though it is a late season, and as it becomes increasingly fibrous and less digestible that is not good news.

I would normally not hesitate, but this year the clamps are almost empty; do I dare to cut at the usual time and harvest less, or do I wait and lose quality?

I will take the chance I think, not least because we have plenty of dirty water to inject after first cut to make up any moisture deficit there may be in June.

It is a crucial decision as next winter’s production depends on it and with feed at sky high prices it could be extremely costly.

We are also growing an extra 60 acres of maize for the cows in order to make up for the fact that our clamps are looking pretty empty; extra costs at a time when margins are very tight indeed.

Confidence in dairy farming has taken a big knock over the last year or so, with margins diminishing due to high costs, milk buyers cutting the price last year in order to protect themselves from their own mistakes in selling forward at low prices, and the struggle to get the voluntary code of practice to start making a difference.

According to our levy body Dairy Co, a significant number of dairy farmers are uncertain about the future, and frustration is growing over milk price for cheese and manufacturing as world prices have shot up but is not reflected in their farm gate price.

The poor weather last year coupled with a late spring is proving very difficult, and many have run out of silage, but have no grass.

Very high bills to replace forage has led to some sales already as farmers get out before they position gets any worse.

The increase in bTB cases, with 3,215 cows slaughtered in January of this year according to latest Defra figures, which is up by a staggering 24% on January last year just adds total misery to the difficult times.

The measles outbreak in south Wales is a stark reminder of two things; the power of the media and the current generation of parent’s complacency about disease, which is understandable but worrying.

The media have a track record of scaremongering as it sells news, and just as they did with Professor Lacey over BSE, they picked up another ‘expert’ (since struck off) on the MMR vaccine and frightened parents from protecting their children in many cases, with the MMR vaccine.

I have seen no apology, what I have seen is more news sold on the back of the measles outbreak, and it seems the media can’t lose.

Suddenly parents are told of the devastating effect of measles, they can see how it spreads so quickly and they are queuing up for the MMR vaccine.

Before the vaccine was introduced in 1988 about half a million children caught measles each year I the UK. About 100 of those children died.

I see a similarity with food and agriculture in that science is not seen as a good thing, even though we would be pretty hungry without it, and again as GM is finally accepted by Tesco for poultry feed and will become the norm; great damage has been done by a few individuals backed by the media.

It is too late when it goes wrong. We somehow need to get a far better understanding of science on all levels to society; not an easy thing to do, but the media could help if they had a mind to do so.