Straw merchant says it has been a good season ... surprisingly

My goodness me what a week; glorious weather which has been very pleasant, enjoyed by both farmer and animal.

Our grass quality is now very good indeed as cows and young-stock find themselves on paddocks which were grazed well the last time, or cut with a mower immediately afterwards and injected with slurry; either way, leafy, sweet (in this sunshine) palatable grass. We are mowing behind them still in order to make sure we have the same quality (weather permitting) into October and beyond.

Who knows how the weather will play out now that the incessant rain has abated, and the good ‘ol sun is back in the clear blue sky. I gather the coming week is going to be a little different, but I do believe that the weather always evens out in the end, and by my book we are still owed!

A great deal of straw and hay has been made over the last couple of weeks, and many farmers have not made hay in September for a very long time. My straw merchant tells me that he has had a very good season (much to my surprise), with a plentiful supply of good quality straw. If the loads we are getting now are anything to go by, it is indeed looking good for the winter ahead.

We have had to treat the milking cows and young-stock against flies, as they re-appeared to make a nuisance of themselves in the warm weather.

The lawn has been cut and will need cutting again very soon, and Lorayne has a good a display of roses and passionflower in the garden.

Anything green has gone mad with enormous growth, but it has been a terrible year for vegetables, and all my tomatoes were killed by blight three weeks ago just as the fruit was getting interesting.

Broccoli, potatoes, rhubarb, lettuce, marrows, courgette and cucumber have been good. All the peas and beans, and pretty much everything else a disaster, and no pears or apples.

The apple press, bought to cope with the bumper crop last year lays idle for this year. I hope that arable and stock farms up and down the country have caught up with work during this spell of weather, and that it is going to continue for a few more weeks yet.

My niece, who has been relief milking here for over two months, bar the fortnight in France with us on holiday, has been topping up her tan very effectively at lunchtimes. She starts her last year at Harper Adams soon, before going out in the world to make her mark, which I am very confident she will.

The lads here will certainly miss her leadership as well as her dedication and effective work in the milking parlour. Kicked at least once, and poo’ed on from time to time (looks like fake tan?); she took it in her stride and I am very grateful to her for her valuable contribution during the staff holiday season.

I went to the Dairy Event in Birmingham last Monday; attendance was down, but considering the weather and workload, it was a good attendance.

Lots of discussions about milk prices, processing companies and contracts, especially when we heard that although there would be an announcement by Jim Paice on the ‘voluntary code’, which was agreed on Friday night; no copies of the agreement would be available to the press or anyone else. Many of us were keen to get a copy so that we could see the detail, but Jim Begg the Director General of Dairy UK had insisted that it all had to be passed by the lawyers first.

We all know that will be a formality as it is essentially a voluntary code, but Jim Begg has his little ways of really annoying us; me more than anybody.

Jim Paice, who had been a major player in getting the voluntary code on dairy contracts agreed, duly stood up at the dairy even on Monday morning and announced that the code had been agreed, and that he was very pleased. Having heard that Caroline Spelman had been sacked, Jim Paice looked confident (assuming that David Cameron would not move him as well), telling us that he was only half way through his job of work, and that he was keen to stay and finish the job. We all felt that he would be able to do just that, but whilst he was at the show, he received the fatal call from No 10; and he was gone. Lord Taylor has gone too; a clean sweep of Defra Ministers at a time when CAP negotiations in Europe are becoming critical and the bovine TB issue hangs in the balance.

It was not a surprise when Caroline Spelman lost her job to be honest. She never really recovered from the Forestry sell-off debacle and was made to look foolish in accepting swinging cuts to her department voluntarily. She never really got to grip with the department, and did not exercise leadership and had a troubled time during her two and a half years it has to be said. Lacklustre is how many described her performance or lack of it at Defra, but she did have the guts to announce the badger cull as a vital part of tackling bovine TB and stood her ground and spoke well in the house on the matter. Jim Paice will be sorely missed; shadowed agriculture in the house for years, was a farmer himself, knew the industry very well, and was straight, honest and courageous. He told the dairy farmers to look at their costs at the height of the milk protests in London and he was right of course, we should always look at our costs. His knowledge and grasp of food policies, and his agricultural background was a real asset to both government and the agricultural community.

Now we have Owen Patterson, a right wing MP from Shropshire who is very supportive of the badger cull and of fox-hunting. He is not keen at all on Europe and presumably the Common Agricultural Policy, but he has shadowed Defra in the past, and has a rural constituency; very supportive of dairy farmers I am told. Did he insist on a new running mate? Or did Jim Paice go to make room for David Heath, a Liberal Democrat; whereas before, Defra was a Lib-Dem free zone? David Heath also a Euro sceptic, represents one of the most rural constituencies in Somerset, with many dairy farmers with bTB problems.

Now that David Cameron has re-arranged the deck chairs, what have we got? Is this still ‘The greenest Government, ever’? With Owen Patterson a Climate Change sceptic and in charge at Defra one has to wonder. Seen as a rising star and a heavier hitter than Caroline Spelman, does this mean that Defra is more important to government today than in the past? There is certainly concern about the rising cost of food due to tight global markets caused by weather patterns which have been disruptive and very difficult. Shadow Labour minister Mary Creagh has made it very clear what she thinks of the new team ‘David Cameron has lurched to the right, appointing a Eurosceptic, climate sceptic, free marketeer as environment Secretary’ she said. Interesting times ahead.

Gwyn Jones