A Farming Diary

I saw ‘our’ first swallow yesterday, 14th April. Along with hearing the cuckoo this really is a sign that spring is well and truly here. Hedges and trees agree with multiple shades of green. Only the ash has yet to break bud at Polehanger. My father always quotes the old saying that if the oak breaks leaf before the ash we’ll only get a splash (of rain this summer) but if the ash comes before the oak then we’ll get a soak. Time will tell how accurate this folklore ‘forecast’ is !

In our fields we are really seeing the cost of last year’s late harvest. The oilseed rape crop either side of the road down to Shefford is looking forlorn, a bit like a moth eaten old carpet. It is behind in growth stage and showing much bare ground, in spite of the hard work that Mark Brinkley has put in over the winter trying to keep the pigeons away. Fertiliser, mainly nitrogen, is being applied in order to provide the nutrient requirements of the crop as it grows. It was touch and go as to whether the crop was worth persisting with into the late spring and summer. It will not be a great crop but it will be a crop  . . .  just.

The spring wheat is now up and showing green in Crackle Hill and Hungry Hill if you walk up the track behind the Village Hall. Soil conditions were not ideal and it took longer than we would have liked for the seedbed to dry out enough to drill the seed. It’s many years since we grew this particular crop so it will be interesting to compare gross margins (crop income less cost of seed, spray and fertilizer) against winter wheat.

All around the farm our hedges look wonderful. It is true that there was a net loss of hedges during the 1950’s and 1960’s as farmers rationalized field size to accommodate larger machinery. Government grants encouraged this process. In the last twenty years however we have not pulled up any trees or hedges but have planted approximately 16 hectares (40 acres) of wood and spinney and 2500 metres of hedge. These are beginning to mature and show themselves off well. This may sound a bit self congratulatory but we are keen to dispel some of the common misconceptions about farmers’ actions and attitudes.

If we still milked cows they would now be looking longingly over the barn gates in anticipation of being let out to graze after the long winter inside. All of us could (and still do) heave a sigh of relief as the longer days and the stronger sun lifts the spirits and the temperature.

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