More like March than May as crops just struggle on

You wouldn’t think that it’s the end of May! All my maize seedlings have turned yellow in the cold and even the grass has slowed down; another very difficult spring which most of us need about as much as a hole in the head.

All the vegetable plants I rushed out to plant in the garden a fortnight ago when the sun briefly shone, just stare at me and are certainly not growing. It’s more like March than May and whether it is raining or dry, it’s always cold.

We made our first cut silage last week, a tricky decision as the weather was changeable. It was a reasonable day on Monday, so on Tuesday we started mowing at lunchtime, hoping that the grass sugar levels might be up, and it remained a reasonable day.

We were due to pick up on Wednesday lunchtime, which allowed for a 24 hour wilt, but the contractor was delayed due to rain in Chichester! With 350 acres of grass mown I began to worry.

They arrived at 6pm and by 10pm over a hundred acres had been put in the clamp and it looked very good, all leaf not a ryegrass flower head in sight. I thought the grass might have headed at roughly the same time this year despite the late spring, but it has been delayed, although a few weed grasses were in flower. Thursday was going well until a few spots of rain fell, and then the sun shone! It seemed to be connected to my mobile phone.

Each time I went to ring the forager driver to stop, it stopped raining and the sun came out. With 80% in the clamp in good conditions, it did start to rain a little heavier in between the bright spells, but the wind was drying things up so fast that we kept going.

We only had a few acres to go when it became a steady drizzle, and with a poor forecast the next day I urged them to finish the job. We now have a 1500 tonne clam of grass silage with a wet cap on top of it. It won’t do any harm, and as its about 20 feet high, the pressure is already squeezing moisture out.

It looked great as it went in, who knows what the analysis will say, but the ultimate judges are the cows. Last year was the same with an analysis too good to be true; which it was. The cows eat it all, but were 2 litres a day down on milk.

That is a lot of money, and we are still 2-3 litres down on where we were at this time last year today. That’s about 800 – 1000 litres a day less milk which amounts to around £270 a day. Huge money which can only be won back by making better silage this year and I am not sure that I have.

Given that the weather over the weekend was still cold and this week is not a great one for silage, I am glad we made ours and we can concentrate on the next cut.

With iffy grass silage, we looked to our maize silage for salvation, but last year was not good. Poor yields and no sunshine meant that the maize did not perform either.

It has got off to a very good start this year, much better than last year’s sodden soils. However, it is now turning yellow due to the cold and we don’t know what harm will be done if it stays cold.

We desperately need the weather to suddenly change in June, and deliver a few weeks in the mid to high twenties.

That will perk up the maize and get my second cut grass growing fast and full of sugar. Our cows are still in, very happy and were delighted to be fed some of the fresh grass as it came in from the fields.

This time last year we were producing 3 litres more as I wrote earlier, we turned the cows out late, and we lost 6 litres a cow through the summer, had more mastitis, much higher cell counts and more lameness. We fed the cows to try and keep production going, but the milk kept dropping.

It took us a further two months to get the milk back in the autumn, but due to the quality of silage we were 2-3 litres short right through the winter until now. Here we are again, a similar spring and I have kept them in despite the extra cost, because milk production is very even, and we have control. Lovely warm sunny days on aftermaths would be ideal, but will they materialise? We will see.

It will come as no surprise that this spring has been the coldest in 34 years, with an average temperature of 6.1 degrees Celsius. March had an average of 3.3c and was the coldest since 1962, and we enjoyed the coldest Easter on record. As farmers we are so reliant on weather, and recently it has been challenging to say the least.

Most arable crops look distinctly patchy, nurseries threw out huge quantities of plants as gardeners correctly deemed it far too cold to start planting, sheep farmers had disastrous losses in the late snow, all stock farmers saw little grass growth this spring, and many ran out of silage, with some large spring calving dairy herds in desperate trouble. The wildlife has also suffered, and are also braving a second difficult spring.

The heifer which eat a poisonous plant the other day has recovered, although her skin is all cracked and peeling on all the white parts of her body. We moved her mates into another field last week, full of lush grass.

I checked them the next day and found that they had been eating all the hemlock tops, mint and other interesting or different plants along the ditches. I’m beginning to wish I had kept them in too! Is this the ‘freedom to express natural behaviour’ that animal welfarist talk about so much means?

I think we should be told – and I would like UKIP’s policy on this. The young heifers over at Tillington are doing well on grass, but struggling to keep up with it all. We cut 30 acres for silage and brought is back to Crouchlands which will ensure we retain proper control which is vital at this time of the year. Right now I need to be worried about lack of grass in the coming week or so, otherwise the speed of regrowth will be too much, and will overwhelm us.

A vaccine to prevent the devastating effects of the ‘Schmallenberg’ virus will be available to farmers in time for the breeding season this year; a great effort by the veterinary pharmaceutical industry, and a huge relief to many farmers.

UK farmers are the first in the EU to get access to the new vaccine after the product was accelerated to meet this year’s breeding season. Some farmers lost up to 60% of their lamb crop this spring to the midge borne disease and the cost of vaccinating is nothing compared to the losses incurred. According to Defra 1753 farms have tested positively to the virus.

Gwyn Jones