Farmers working flat out to get back on schedule

A beautiful day on Saturday after the bitterly

cold easterly wind of last week, made it feel a bit more like spring.

A minus five degree chill overnight took the shine off it all, but again on Sunday a magnificent day and no frost last night.

As I walk the farm, I hear a woodpecker drumming, and the little birds have started to sing; they believe (as I do) that winter’s grip is about to be released. An eternal optimist, once again I feel that spring has arrived, the garden is coming alive and I can see that the first pull of rhubarb in 2013 is not that far away. The hedgerows have a hint of green, but soil temperature is about 3 degrees, where we need 6 degrees for grass growth and 10 degrees before maize is planted.

Farmers are absolutely flat out trying to get the backlog of work cleared whilst this dry weather lasts, and we are no different; it is 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for everyone as we get as much dirty water and slurry injected before any rain arrives. It has dried up incredibly rapidly and we can drive tractors on the fields at Crouchlands which for early April is quite unusual. The water companies are beginning to talk about sensible use of water and that I find quite depressing after the wettest 12 months April to April. EVER!

We are thinking of Tarmacing the farm drive! This was last done 33 years ago almost to the day, and was beautifully smooth and rather better than the local roads when completed, but we then built the dairy two years later and the vast amount of concrete, steel and other material delivered did put the drive under some strain.

Still it lasted 15 years before we had to start patching it and a further ten years before it was completely wrecked and buried under stone as we built on top. Many loads of stone later, we have a drive which is now very stable, taking large lorries with no trouble and is a very good base for Tarmac.

I needed to make sure that we Tarmac to the right place as we join the main road, and after many emails and a great deal of help from my excellent local councillor Chris Duncton, we did get a man with an aerosol can to spray-mark a yellow line for us to Tarmac up to. However, as our farm drive is a bridle-path, a chap from the ‘rights of way’ brigade sent me an email to tell me that the drive would need to be re-surfaced to ‘their’ specification.

Apparently, whilst my car crashes around on our third world local roads despite the vast amount of taxes paid by motorists, our drive must give priority to walkers, cyclists and horse riders when a new surface is being considered.

Over the past 34 years, not only have we maintained the drive (bridle path), but we have also lifted all other bridle-paths out of the clay and constructed proper roads which gives everyone access and a decent surface to walk on at our own expense.

They really were totally impassable during winter before we did this and we still spend money on them tidying them up each year. You would have thought in 2013, when local authorities have no money that they might have been pleased when someone offers to Tarmac a quarter of a mile of bridleway. It all hangs in the balance now as we consider our position and I am furious about such dik-tak when David Cameron tells us he is all for getting rid of unnecessary red-tape. It’s a joke!

There is now an acute shortage of milk in this country and in world markets. In the UK milk production was down by almost 3 million litres a day in March, before the bad weather struck. It might well be 4million a day by the end of March according to some analysts.

According to Barry Wilson’s ‘Dairy Industry Newsletter’ significant quantities of milk were left uncollected, with production hampered by poor (or no) grass growth, waterlogged and snowbound fields. We have no grass to speak of, and as it takes three weeks to really get going, it does not bode well for April milk production in this country, as many farmers have run out of food and are grazing their farms bare.

The silly Welsh minister Alun Davies, chose to highlight cost of production last week, comparing differences between costs of production on farms. ‘No other industry has this variance’ he said. A small farmer in South Wales on the radio commented that he survived as he employed no labour, did all the work himself and his 77 year old father provided relief milking for him. No other industry works like this Minister, all wages are paid and people generally retire at 65. Not the first politician to look foolish due to poor judgment.

European milk supply has been affected by the bad weather and a late spring with a fall in production of around 3%. New Zealand production is very low due to the drought, down by approaching 20%, and Australian production has been falling rapidly since the beginning of the year, February alone fell by a massive 9.2%.

Both these countries, New Zealand in particular have a direct impact on global dairy supplies, and demand is out-stripping supply, sending international dairy prices very high. The IFCN (International Farm Comparison Network) is predicting real shortages, which it claims were there before the drought in New Zealand, and that global supply fell below demand in mid-2012.

The global deficit could reach 4m tonnes in 2013 sending milk prices up to $60. If this happens, it is likely that following the boom will come depressed prices and we could be caught in a three to four year cycle which I believe will be difficult to manage and very damaging. Dairy farmers need stability.

I watched the Grand National late on Saturday night after work, and I was enthralled by the spectacle of this great race. Having watched the excellent documentary on the event the night before, I was keen to see how the various horses featured in that programme fared.

Thankfully there were no injuries or fatalities which takes the pressure off those who enjoy it, and silences those who would have it banned. Banning the Grand National is the first step to banning all horse racing as well as continuing the ban on hunting and protecting badgers infected with and spreading bTB in the countryside.

I was delighted to see the trainer from Wales getting a second and third in the Grand National, and thought the way she treated her horses rather a splendid way of allowing freedom of expression as well as getting them to peak condition physically; it certainly seems to pay.

Gwyn Jones