We need rain to stave off this drought

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Back to spring weather again, with plants, wildlife and the pastures looking lively once more. There are shoots in the garden which are dagger-like in their thrust for sunlight, and the rhubarb is in leaf. It’s only a week until March, and then we can relax? February has lived up to its name of being a nasty little month, with a sting in the tail of an otherwise incredibly mild winter.

Given how dry it has been, I am now fully expecting a wet spring, which frankly will benefit some of the farmers which are facing a season with almost empty reservoirs and dry soils. If we do not get a lot of rain over the coming weeks, the drought conditions will have a profound effect on some businesses. I am attending the drought summit with Secretary of State Caroline Spelman on Monday, where I will impress on her the need for a national strategic plan for water, and further measures to help farmers make better use of water.

At the time of writing, the ‘Schmallenberg’ virus has affected 52 farms in the UK, and is now in Cornwall. In Europe it has been found in Northern Italy, and seems to have been much more widespread than at first thought. We expect many more farms to be infected in the UK and in other countries as time goes on, but also that the effect on aborted and deformed lambs will decrease as time goes on.

The theory being that foetus’ are vulnerable at a certain stage of development, and that as ewes lamb later, the effect on their lambs will be less. There are companies looking at developing a vaccine, which could be of great help in the future, if this disease is here to stay. The effect on cattle in the UK is still largely unknown, with only two farms affected so far.

We were discussing animal disease, generally, at the ‘Animal Health and Welfare Committee’ in Brussels last Friday, and frustratingly there is so little known about the Schmallenberg virus. Given that it was half-term week and that it was Friday, we were subjected to the usual Belgian, and then UK passport check, although we are all in the EU. This made the last Eurostar out of Brussels that night 15 minutes late, as it took so long to get everyone through all these checks and security; which meant we set off and arrived in London at a later time.

Our later arrival of 15 minutes in London was greeted with the announcement that they would not be opening the train doors for a few minutes, as another train had just disembarked from Paris. I knew immediately what this meant; yes, a full passport and train ticket check in St Pancras, which made us all extremely late, with many passengers missing their connections. ‘Did they check your ticket as well as your passport in Brussels?’ they asked. ‘It’s so long ago, I don’t remember’ I replied. ‘OK, off you go’. So much for security!

Farm Diary - Gwyn Jones