As I write on March 13th, the influence of the long cold winter is still very evident. There are no daffodils in bloom down our farm drive yet, no leaves breaking bud in hedgerows generally, no bumble bees looking for nesting sites, only occasional seasonal birdsong when the sun breaks cover. We do have a duck though, that comes off our pond and nests in an old water trough that is now planted up with grasses. She has done this for the past 6 or so years. She has appeared again in the past week, so I confidently predict spring will come, and come soon. It always does!
Spring and autumn are my favourite seasons. They are full of promise and reward to anyone who is involved in growing crops. That is not to say I don’t enjoy a warm summer day in the garden with a beer and a book and a barbecue to look forward to. In my memory, hot summer days were always sweaty and dusty with hay making and combines without cabs; whilst cold winter days were spent thawing water pipes for cows to drink and trying to start reluctant tractors.
Another sign of spring used to be hares chasing and boxing each other in the wheat crops in March; but we don’t see many now. Where have they gone? Like the house sparrow it does seem not clear why numbers have dropped. It is certainly too simplistic to blame farming practices alone. I hope that the conservation work we do on the farm may encourage them back; and that the hare coursers we used to get stay away.
Autumn sown crops are not really ‘waking up’ yet as I write, but they will, as soon as soil temperature rise. Then the seasonal cycle will continue with several fertilizer applications to provide optimum soil nutrients and similar chemical control of weeds and disease.
Grain prices for last year’s harvested crop in store, and next year’s unharvested crop, have fallen dramatically from those being offered last summer. This makes budgeting very important and we aim to sell a proportion of our harvest, forward ( in advance ) if our budgeted price is reached, in order to lock into that, rather than be totally at the mercy of the market post harvest. Of course, prices may go up above the budget figure, but the markets can be so volatile due to currency fluctuations, world harvest forecasts and speculators that it isn’t always possible to catch or anticipate the top price before it has gone . . . And you only ever know what was a top price in hindsight anyway.
In November last year I had the opportunity and privilege of going to Ethiopia with a group of 12 supporters of Farm Africa. The purpose of the trip was to inform and to raise sponsorship by running in the 10k Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa. This event was started 9 years ago by the great Ethiopian long distance runner Haile Gebresalassie. When we took part there were 30,000 entrants. Together with the altitude of 7,000 ft this mad it more of a challenge than we had originally anticipated. I pottered round in 90 minutes. The Ethiopian winner finished in a shade under 29 minutes! The following 6 days we travelled to visit 4 projects run by Farm Africa. We did not travel to the border regions as these are still too unstable politically. We were very struck by the rural poverty, the beauty of the Rift Valley, the changes that hope can motivate when information, skills and small loans are given. The effect on the women involved was particularly moving.
Have a look at www.farmafrica.org.uk
One last thing; About every three weeks or so I trek up to the end of our drive and fill a small bin liner with rubbish thrown aside by pedestrians and drivers travelling up and down the hill to Meppershall. I get very irritated and mutter dark things under my breath. But really this is pointless and I manage to conclude that it is a good thing to tidy up even if it as a result of other people’s thoughtlessness. Maybe we should all pick up a bit of litter as we go about our village and make the place a bit tidier for a short while: and keep on doing it!