Agriculture has a lot in the pipeline after elections

RAIN, glorious rain! After making a snap decision to make the grass silage last week, as I could see little hopes of further growth, but certain deterioration in quality, we made our move. We now have a thousand tonnes of high dry matter, very good quality silage in the clamp. Of course it should be nearer fifteen hundred tonnes, but I gambled on further cuts, as the rain would surely come?

The contractor’s mowers were very carefully set up to leave generous two inch stubble, so that it was nice and green behind the silage gang, with enough leaf to get things moving immediately. The maize and the silage aftermaths are now enjoying this rain, and together with dirty water being applied, which has now been washed in, and fertilizer on those few fields we could not get to with the dirty water; we are in good shape. The new grass seeds seem to be responding to the rain too, but we do need some more over the coming week or so to keep things going.

Over at Tillington, the grass responds very quickly, and the rain has come just in time. We were facing severe difficulties in a week or two if the rain had not arrived, but hopefully things will now pick up. With the ground being so desperately dry, it takes a lot of rain to return things to normal, as every day without rain evaporates the moisture quite quickly. I have never seen such dry conditions so early in the year, but who knows what will happen over the coming weeks?

The lawn needs cutting again (one downside to the rain), and the birds are really enjoying the freshness around, and all the puddles to splash around in. Our boiler packed up in the house last week, and the cause was found to be the intake pipe full of twigs and moss, where some industrious bird was busy filling it up with thoughts of nesting there!

Driving up to the silage fields with a visitor; he was amazed at the skylarks flying up as we drove up the track. We have always had skylarks at Crouchlands, and this year there seems to be more than ever.

*The silage fields which had some docks in them have now been grazed rather than cut for silage due to a shortage of grass available for grazing, and the cows have eaten the leaves and sorted the problem out for now.

It is interesting how the cows will eat young dock leaves, only rejecting them when they become old and tough. I hope that they will continue to eat them through the summer, as it seems to control them; weakening the plant making it more susceptible to a spray later on. Docks are a source of very high quality protein and trace elements, but that alone does not make them desirable in our silage or grazing paddocks.

Grazing is going to remain under pressure, due to the need to cut as many acres as possible again for silage, and of course the failure of our new seeds to grow as they should have done, which means they are not in the grazing rotation as they should be by now.

As things stand, I will be very pleased to see the new seeds survive, and if they come into the rotation in a month or so, it will be a real bonus. I have never planted grass in the spring at Crouchlands before as the opportunity is never there due to the ground being too wet; I was tempted in this ‘perfect spring’, only for it not to be so ‘perfect’ after all. A lesson learnt.

*The Scots have launched an attack on Secretary of State Caroline Spelman; Scottish National Party MP (Rural Affairs Minister) Richard Lockhead has complained about Caroline Spelman’s approach to farming. Mr Lockhead said that ‘the Defra secretary treats farming like a second-best portfolio’. Scottish farmers do feel let down (I often speak to the National Farmers Union of Scotland), and they complain that they see little difference between Spellman and Hilary Benn, and the infamous speech at Oxford (in January) went down badly.

There is also anger that the devolved government does not have a stronger voice in Brussels, with Wales joining in on that score. There are no bi-lateral meetings on agriculture, and both devolved governments are frustrated that their representation in Brussels is through successive governments in Westminster who have little appetite for European policies or discussion. They say that the current administration is only interested in the rebate, and how they might rid themselves of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Caroline Spelman has now raised eyebrows by giving her name to a letter which blames intensive agriculture for biodiversity loss. She is one of 15 Ministers across the EU who signed an open letter in the ‘Times of Malta’ sighting intensive agriculture as one of the ‘well known’ causes of biodiversity loss. Adding her name to the list of signatories has placed the Secretary of State in an awkward position with her own department, whose business plan sights the main ambition as increasing food production. Rather than taking a negative route yet again, it would be better if Caroline Spelman joined the agriculture industry in developing ‘sustainable intensification’ whereby increased production and increased bio-diversity can be developed.

Following the various elections last week, where no one seemed to shine in the polls, but the citizens of this country demonstrated very clearly what they do not want (AV, broken promises, weak leadership etc:), the coalition will continue with the programme in a ‘business as usual’ fashion, but it will not be the quite same now will it? The Liberal Democrats will want (badly need) further concessions, whilst the Conservatives are now even more in the driving seat (as they see it), and will be reluctant for David Cameron to give anything to the Lib-Dem’s.

Will agriculture be affected? It will in Wales with the Labour party in charge, and it certainly will in Scotland under Alex Salmond, but in Westminster I don’t see any immediate changes on the horizon, which gives us stability to redouble our efforts with the current team, making sure that all the work in the last year bears some fruit before the end of 2011. There is a lot in the pipe-line, Bovine TB, supermarket regulator, red tape review, CAP, the debate over large scale farming and so on.