Well, that’s the first two weeks of May written off, as the rain continues and is now beginning to really soak into the clay. I can see cows in until June at this rate, which has happened only once before in the last 33 years.
In the early 1980s, we had a series of very wet springs, where cows were in until well into May; we then rutted our silage fields as we snatched some very wet grass silage, spending almost as many days stuck in the mud as we did carrying grass. We have had such a good run for so many years now, that we forget about the hellish nightmare of a truly wet spring. Only a few farmers grew maize in those days, and I remember Paddy Hodgson, a well-known contractor told me once that he spent all year building good relationships with his farmer clients, only to ruin it all in a couple of weeks of maize harvesting, as he pulled most of their fields onto the main road, leaving something akin to the ‘Somme’ behind.
It is because of the harsh lessons learnt then, that we have plenty of silage in store today.
As the papers talk of an end to the ‘Two year drought’, which would make your average Australian fall off his chair with laughter, the spell of dry weather is certainly now being followed by a spell of wet weather, and are we prepared for it? Are we capitalising on it? Well, not exactly; it is causing similar problems to dry weather, hot weather, cold weather, or indeed, windy weather. We have a philosophy in this country of having the luxury of unpredictable weather patterns which are by no stretch of the imagination extreme, therefore we are deliberately unprepared for any of it.
No sooner than the hose-pipe ban is announced, than the great hosepipe in the sky is turned on with devastating effect. A large arable farmer in East Anglia was telling me the other day that he was extremely worried a month ago, after applying £400,000 worth of fertilizer on his crops in the dry weather; he now tells me that he is extremely worried that it being washed away!
The woodland and the hedgerows have certainly benefitted from all this rain, the leaves have all burst out in a vivid green over the last week or so, with most of the trees, especially the oak, in full leaf; the ash is behind (in for a splash indeed!). The hedgerows have filled out magnificently after a slow start, and the birds all seem very happy with this wet weather. The nightingale outside our bedroom window must have a wet-suit, as it sings all night, at very high volume. Lorayne has heard the cuckoo, but I have not; it must have caught a cold? Huge badger activity in our woods as they get stuck into the annual spring-cleaning, the muddy tracks through the woods showing the huge number which live here now.
Our grazing paddocks have got so much grass in them, that grazing will be very difficult when the cows do eventually go out. The longer the cows are in, the bigger the area I will need to cut for silage, as the grass will go to head, and will be too stemy to graze any sense. We might even cut it all, and wait for aftermaths to graze the cows on if this carries on; providing we can travel on the land in the first place. One thing is quite clear, there is nothing we can do about it, and it will come right in the end; it always does. Maize drilling will be late, many sprays have not been applied to the cereal crops, early grass silage crops have been flattened by the rain; in Wales the grass is not growing due to the low temperatures and farmers are feeding sheep in May, which is very unusual. Contractors are kicking their heels, knowing that everyone will want them on the same day once the weather changes and it is tradition for the heavens to open on a bank-holiday. Take your choice, a long weekend in the rain or a long weekend at Heathrow! Bad luck versus chaos and incompetence.
If Boris Johnson can only beat a genuine ‘has-been’ by a whisker, then David Cameron is in much more serious trouble than even the local elections demonstrated. Voters just did not bother to turn out, such is their indifference. The Liberal Democrats have just about been wiped out, and senior Conservatives will have a very different agenda in mind for Cameron to follow this week. He would be wise to consider it carefully, as the media have now turned against him, and he is beginning to look a very lonely figure. We all know how ruthless the party is when it decides the leader is no longer a winner, and the feeling is that the Liberal Democrats are hardly in a position to call an election now, so why pamper to them; let them do their worst if they don’t like the new agenda.
As predicted, many dairy processors have followed Dairy Crest with cuts to farm milk price, some giving even less notice to their farmer suppliers than the 4 days given by DC. Although the price cuts started in the liquid sector, French cheese makers Lactalis jumped on the bandwagon, as did Muller; both companies cutting their price to farmers. There is undoubtedly more to come, and I suspect that the recent new-born confidence in the dairy industry over the last few months has just been smothered. With poor weather, sky high feed, fertilizer and fuel prices, margins in many cases will have been wiped out by such a large cut, with more to come, leaving many farmers in a difficult position. Meanwhile Arla has just received its planning permission to build a billion litre factory north of London, which will bring extra pressure as they need to sign farmers in order to fill that capacity, but looking for increased market share when it comes on stream, squeezing prices further. The two farmer owned co-ops have not declared their hand just yet, but the rumours of large cuts prevail, with talk of more joint ventures and nestling up to much bigger players. By this time next year, the dairy industry will look very different, as several significant moves are afoot.
A family in Plaistow Village have bought 30 acres of absolutely top-quality grassland (rented and managed by yours truly for the past umpteen years), fenced half a dozen sheep in one corner of the land, and put the biggest mobile-home ever seen right on top of the hill!
A new track has been put in from the gateway, and of course the locals and village residents are up in arms. There is no subtlety here, no progressive move from a food store, to lambing shed, to shepherd shelter, caravan, log cabin and eventually a dwelling; no this is straight in with a very simple approach; ‘I have 30 acres and I now want a house on it’.
They are not the first to try this, and ours is not the only village up in arms over such activity, but there are others watching in the wings, hoping that this will pave the way for them to do exactly the same thing. The ‘preserve the village in aspic’ committee is apoplectic, and the Parish Council chairman is under pressure. Life is never dull.