Sunshine between showers helps sort out the damage

Just when we thought things were getting better weather-wise; storms, heavy rain and flash flooding in the south west and very heavy rain over the weekend in West Sussex.

The land which was only dry on top is beginning to soften up again, and it will not take much more before we are in trouble.

The good thing is that the sun does shine between the showers, and at this time of year it has the power to evaporate; putting right some of the damage done.

It is very difficult to plan while the weather is so unsettled, and applications of manure and slurry are very tricky indeed.

We have hired two tankers with ‘disc injectors’, which cut a slot in the soil, placing the slurry in the slot.

This not only prevents surface ‘run-off’, if it rains, but it also places the slurry where it is needed for the grass plant; does not cover all the leaves with slurry which holds back growth due to the plant having problems with photosynthesis (harvesting the sun through the leaves), or burn the leaves in the sun.

It also means that grazing can take place much earlier, as the grass leaves are not contaminated with slurry, and we cut right down on any smell, due to the slurry being placed in the soil and not blasted in the air with high force to achieve a decent spreading pattern.

New season straw has started arriving on the farm and it is a pleasure to bed up with proper straw once again (oh yes many animals and quite a few cows still inside), after the dreadful remnants of last year’s straw, and hay!

I do have a contract in place for the coming year, which has started early. Luckily we can use all the straw yard muck in the bio-digester, which helps cover the cost; which is considerable. The bio-digester has been running well (but not without its moments), with both engines at maximum power for several weeks, and the flare roaring away at times as we get better at running it and getting the most out of the feedstock.

Very little solid manure comes out now that the digestion is operating at a higher level of efficiency, and the little solid that does come out; we put right back in again for complete digestion.

Our mains electricity will be turned off on Tuesday (yesterday) from 8am until 4.30pm; this will mean switching off the whole plant (as we cannot export to the grid), and running the tractor generator for the dairy unit during milking and to cool the milk. Not merely an inconvenience anymore; it will cost us a lot of money.

Lorayne and I went to a wedding in South Wales last Saturday, and the whole farming community were guests at our friends’ eldest daughter’s big day. The heavy showers timed themselves to perfection, pouring down during the service, but sunny for the photographs, raining hard all afternoon, but a very sunny and pleasant evening.

Only one dairy farmer at the wedding; all the others had given up milking, most of them recently, and as usual, not one of them regretted it although they all miss the cows themselves.

The sheer relentless graft of dairy farming, the complete tie of a twice a day, seven day a week routine, the lack of time for family and friends, especially as 4.30am start puts the dampers on any late nights; milk price cuts and rising prices were the last straw.

I find it very worrying that so many are leaving the industry, and in Wales where farms are generally smaller, the exit rate is of course higher.

New data reveals that the price of milk has fallen by 16 percent over the past three years in shops, compared with an average increase of 11 percent in other grocery categories. This adds fuel to the dairy protests of late, and goes some way to explaining the problem in the industry as some retailers maintain or even increase their margin, while reducing prices, leaving the farmer operating at a loss. The price of milk has fallen from 69.5p per litre in 2009, to 60p per litre this year (Symphony IRI); there was an increase in all other categories of grocery of 11 percent.

Milk provided retailers with the highest sales returns of all packaged grocery products by value.

Turning to the dairy protest itself, which is still quietly targeting the smaller discounting retailers, and negotiating hard behind the scenes in order to reach settlement if possible, and prevent further action; leaving everyone to get on with their lives. It is interesting to see analysis of the support dairy farmers have with the public. We saw last week that ‘You Gov’ data stated 67 percent of people believe dairy farmers need to be paid more for their milk, even if this means milk in the shops cost a little more, 19 percent said they will change the way they shop for milk as a direct result of the dairy protest, and a staggering 11 percent vowing to change retailers.

Taking the analysis further, as you would expect London were less aware of the protest (71 per cent still good), than Scotland (an amazing 91 per cent); but the real differences are in demography, where the older citizen is so much better informed, and supportive. 96 percent of those aged 60 and over were aware of the protests, 56 percent of 18-24 year olds knew of the problems in the dairy sector, with 72 per cent of 25-35 years and 89 per cent of 40-59 years old. Robin Cushens of YouGov commented that this is not surprising, as young people do not do much shopping, and do not listen to programmes (Radio 4 and BBC News) which discuss such issues.

He was a little surprised that awareness was not higher, given that the dairy protest had ‘trended’ on ‘Twitter’ at the height of the campaign, and that protests had been co-ordinated on Twitter, with celebrities targeted for support etc.

Personally, given that Twitter and social media, generally is still fairly new in agriculture, apart from the young and students of course. I can see greater use of twitter and any future campaign will certainly involve greater and more sophisticated use of these new media channels.

This was the first protest to involve social media on any scale, and I am pleased to see that awareness is actually so high with young people, who have hectic, busy and exciting lives to lead. The fact that it has registered so high is testament to the social media, and we will very quickly master this.

Aren’t we having a fabulous Olympics? What a day Saturday was – six golds!

It is very pleasing to those of us who were beginning to feel in the minority, that this country can of course put on world class events. I think the London Olympics can maybe turn the tide? Make us all feel better and more confident about the future?

Why, there is even talk of the coalition between David Cameron and Nick Clegg being ‘mutually’ broken up in order to give both parties (most of whom did not want this in the first place) time to prepare and ‘show their differences’ (not difficult!) before the general election.

I’ll drink to that!

Gwyn Jones - Farm Diary