The barbecue ‘summer’ we had in March is now just a memory ...

I have an idea. Why don’t we have a hose-pipe ban in October? We can then be sure of proper rainfall at the appropriate time, filling the groundwater reserves.

With several inches of rain this month, I have had to bring my youngstock in at Crouchlands. In-calf heifers can create just as much damage to the pasture as cows, given that they are almost full size, and much more restless; our biggest group of 60 animals started ‘walking’ as we call it, last Thursday, and once they do that, they start to stain some of the grass with their hooves, and then the walking gets progressively worse, until the grass is covered, and muddy tracks appear around the perimeter of the field as they begin to sink into the clay.

At this point, before the paddock is quickly destroyed, they should be brought in, and that is what we did.

The paddock will recover, the rain has washed the mud from the grass, but the next grazing will not be perfect in that paddock, as it has not been properly grazed this time around.

The BBQ ‘summer’ back in March is now but a distant memory, and the cows and I exchange knowing glances as I walk past the shed.

I almost turned them out the last weekend in March, but they were not asking, although the sun was shining and the grass was green; it would not have been good.

Otherwise, the spring progresses, very wet, windy, quite wintery at times with hail! The leaves are greening up the trees; the cherry blossom has almost gone as the wind blew it like a snowstorm around the place last week. The apple blossom is now taking over, and very pretty it is too; at least with wet weather there is no frost to prevent it setting.

Grass growth has slowed down now the temperature has fallen, but the rain is of course very welcome and it will set everyone up for the month of May at the very least. I just hope it will know when to stop, as there is an awful lot to make up, and we don’t want it all at once right now!

The nightingale has arrived and is singing its heart out at night in the woods outside our bedroom window, and I very nearly trod on an adder as I climbed over a fence last Sunday; it was sunning itself in a coil. This is all very early.

We have made no progress on the remaining maize acreage, and we are very pleased to have got the maize for the cows planted two weeks ago, which takes some of the pressure off at least. It is still plenty early enough, and we will see which drilling date was right in the autumn when we harvest.

Grass silage fields are coming along, and it will be ready to cut fairly early in May, providing it has not got so wet on the clay that the machinery cannot travel! I hope not, and it would take a lot of rain for that to happen, given how dry it has been, but you never know.

Our plans to do some work on the cow tracks have had to be shelved in this weather, but apart from that detail, we are ready for turnout; all the fences checked (and repaired after the hunt!) and water troughs checked and cleaned.

The vote by dairy farmers supplying Sainsbury’s to have a direct contract with the retailer, with a fixed price based on the cost of producing milk, was unsurprisingly carried by a huge majority, with a very high number of farmers voting.

Given the pressure in the dairy industry currently, with processors not being able to get more money from the market due to fierce competition, and unable to do what they normally do, which is to cut the price to the farmer due to demand for farm gate milk, their margins are extremely thin and we see the cracks beginning to show.

Dairy Crest has announced the closure of two dairies, and that it has lost its liquid contract with Tesco. The closures are to protect the future of the company’s liquid milk division which is under sustained pressure, but it is not driven by the loss of the Tesco contract, according to CEO Mark Allen.

We are the third largest milk producers in Europe, and it is vital that we have a thriving farming community and a profitable processing sector.

Whilst feed, fertilizer and fuel have risen on farms by 21%, 29%, and 75% respectively, over the last two years the price of milk in the stores has fallen from £1.53 to £1.08 for a four pint poly-bottle. That is not sustainable, and we are beginning to witness the fallout.

Tesco itself has been in the news of late, and anyone reading the doom and gloom in the media would be forgiven for thinking that this was a poor performing company in desperate trouble. I don’t think that 1% fall in UK profit from last year, to £2.5 billion, whilst Group sales are up 7.4% to £72 billion and pre-tax profits up 5.3% to £8.3 billion is too tardy?

It has been widely reported that Tesco took its eye off the ball in the UK and drained it of investment, as the company invested and concentrated on its activities abroad. CEO Philip Clarke is now poised to spend a cool £billion; £200m on revamping stores, £200m on service improvement, £450m on quality and price of goods, and £150m on internet services. It is tough to come back when the other three major retailers have upped their game and are moving ahead, but the Tesco share price increased when the strategy was revealed; it is still the biggest retailer by far.

My eye was taken by a chart on the cost of petrol, highlighting that the most expensive petrol is in Norway, which just as in the UK is driven by taxation, and whilst petrol prices are very high here, there are six countries where it costs even more!

In Norway, petrol costs an eye watering 162p per litre; not that it makes us feel any better. This column has mentioned the relentless gains the diesel engine has made in cars bought across Europe, due to the lower cost of diesel abroad, and the fact that the diesel engine does more miles to the gallon (but costs more to buy and service). Well, the petrol engine is fighting back!

I’ve always thought of the diesel engine as being dirtier than petrol, but regulation allowed it to get away with it; not any more. The ‘particulates’ emitted by diesel engines and the Nitrous Oxides, are now considered to be bad for health, and the ‘anti-pollution’ equipment fitted to diesel engines in order to comply, includes exhaust gas recirculation, particulate filters, and urea injection. Our latest tractor on the farm runs on diesel, but has an Urea tank, which also has to be filled at re-fuelling.

The fuel injection systems on diesel engines are now extremely complex and very expensive, which makes a diesel engine for a car more expensive to produce than before. Couple this with the fact that a new generation of petrol engines costing a fifth of the price of a diesel to build, weigh far less, and do more to the gallon; is the era of diesel engines in cars over?

Gwyn Jones