Weather or not
Provisional Met Office rainfall figures show that March 2011 was the driest for 60 years across the UK and for 100 years in some parts of eastern England. At the moment rainfall distribution is following last year’s pattern of a very dry spring which brings challenges on the farm (see below).
How long before threats of hose pipe bans?
Oakley: a month in the life of a wheat plant
Oakley is growing up fast, rather like a young adolescent boy! Tillering has taken place during which each plant develops a number of shoots (tillers) that will grow on to bear an ear. A second application of nitrogen fertilizer has been applied to give optimum nutrient availability, but as it is applied in granular form to the soil surface it needs rain to dissolve and become available to Oakley’s root system below the surface.
As last year, this current rainfall pattern is a critical and potential yield constraint.
By the time you read this article in early May, the plant will have doubled in height and we will be applying fungicide sprays to protect it from such diseases as are prevalent at the time, depending on the weather and threshold seen in the crop.
Elsewhere on the Farm
20 bare earth Skylark plots have been created in the wheat crop at various locations to encourage nesting sites. In recent years the increase in winter cropping has meant that ground nesting birds such as the Skylark and Lapwing have struggled to find suitable sites across the region.
Can I request that walkers respect the farm by keeping to the public and permissive footpaths. The 6 metre grass margins and filed corners sown to grass are conservation features and are not for public access.
I also stress that the footpaths are just that and are not for motorbikes. No-one has permission to ride on the farm so if you are walking and come across youngsters on bikes you have our permission to stop them and explain that it is not allowed and not safe for walkers.
Higher Level Scheme
We have decided, for the time being at least, not to continue with our application for this scheme for the reasons alluded to last month. Polehanger Farm is, as an arable farm in the East of England, relatively small. We already have 10% of our land under woodland and a further 3% under conservation grassland. Together with buildings and roadways, a further 15% taken out of production under HLS would mean a third of the farm was not producing food .
As well as an economic question, there is also a moral issue arising in a world where many are still malnourished. This applies equally to growing crops as biofuels. (See comment below on Foresight Report)
Interesting Statistic of the Month
Insurers are estimating that Britain’s worst winter weather for 100 years will cost farmers more than £100 million. This from lost crops, particularly sugar beet and brassicas, burst water pipes and collapsed livestock buildings.
We got away with it lightly in this region!
I referred last month to the Foresight Report, published by the UK Chile Scientist, Sir John Beddington. In it he addresses the issue of how to feed an ever increasing world population with only modest increases in land available without destroying the natural environment. He identifies the following 5 challenges (in simple terms):
[listitems is_numeric=”no”]Balancing supply and demand to keep food affordable
Ensuring a stable food supply to protect the poorest from food price volatility
Achieving global access to food and an end to ‘hunger’
Managing food production to reduce climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions
Managing biodiversity whilst feeding the world[/listitems]
Overall, the report concludes that a more integrated approach to global food security is needed, given the inevitable pressure on water supplies, energy and land use, together with problems of increased volatility which is itself a factor of higher demand and low world food stocks.
Some challenge then . . . !
Warm off the Press
A Greenhouse Gas Action Plan was launched by farm leaders on April 4th. Farm Minister, Jim Paice, challenged the industry to honour it’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million tones of CO2 equivalents.
According to an article in Farmer’s Weekly, agriculture contributes about 9% of the total UK greenhouse gas emissions, but 76% of the total nitrous oxide and 38% of the total methane emissions.
We’ll have to wait and see how we are recommended to do this practically.
In the meantime I’ll try and cut down on unnecessary emissions of hot air . . . .
60 Years Ago: Michael Foster’s Diary Extract
1st April: Went to Geoff Harris’ wedding at Gravenhurst Church !!
2nd Easter Monday: It’s a pity that rain will have spoilt Easter for the holidaymakers, but it will do a power of good to farmers and gardeners. Hardly any of my fields are without patches where (spring sown ) barley is not coming through. (Some things don’t change over the years)
13th April: Cows out at night with mangolds (like big turnips) to eat on restricted grass. Cows scouring![/listitems]
(My words in brackets)
Thought for the Month
Much is now being made in employment law of paternity leave and pay. I’m hoping that before long this Government will recognise the pressing need for grand-paternity pay!!