Rainfall ( lack of )
Everywhere around here is dry. The weather pundits say the first six months of this year are the driest for 80 years or so. The country is split at the moment with rain in the north and west but it is hot and dry in the south east. Even so the North West water authority is warning of an imminent hose pipe ban as surface water reserves are very low. Given our low average annual rainfall of around 22 inches, the only way we get away with this amount is that it falls regularly, little and often; and the days with hot sun are few and far between. This rainfall distribution is critical to crop yield which of course is critical to long term profitability. Lower yield is not usually fully compensated by higher price but the crop will still have had the intended and budgeted inputs .
The Oilseed Rape has now been dessicated to kill the plant off so that it ripens evenly in preparation for harvesting. It will be ready towards the end of July. The wheat is ripening rapidly (nice alliteration!) and looks ok at Polehanger; but as I travel around the area I can see where premature dying off is evident in patches which will reduce yield.
If that impacts you, you’re probably on, or about to go on holiday. As a kid we always had our holidays at other times of the year (that still had to co-incide with school holidays) because of harvest. Harvest still is a big deal; the culmination of an arable farmer’s year and requiring flat out activity as and when the crop and weather dictates. Watch out for the dust clouds.
I may have mentioned before, in a grumpy sort of way, my irritation at the amount of litter that gets dropped at the end of our farm drive (and elsewhere of course). Fortnightly, or so, I go up and fill a plastic bag with mostly discarded food coverings or drink containers of one sort or another. I mutter darkly under my breath, failing fully to understand why people drop litter so thoughtlessly, but lately have reconciled myself to doing this as part of my desire to keep the countryside looking well. Once or twice when I have walked from my mother’s home at Fowlers Farm to the Post Office I have picked up rubbish on the pavement to go in the bin. Without becoming obsessive about it, maybe we could all pick up an item or two of littter as we go about our business and the effect could be quite dramatic.
My wife Christine bought John Suchet’s recent published book, ‘Bonnie and Me’. It describes how his wife, Bonnie, succumbs to Alzheimer’s. The book is fascinating, poignant and painful all at the same time, depending on your own exposure to the various forms of Dementia. My mother, Kathleen, has it. As I talk with her about things going on in the fields she asks if we are growing the crops that were grown in her younger days, although she will have been told about our modern cropping patterns. We reminisce in a disjointed and disconnected way. These conversations occur week after week with no recall of the last one: but she is content, if passive and fairly silent. The woman who brought picnic teas out to the harvest field when I was a teenage combine driver is no longer with us; her shadow is.
Euro / Sterling / Dollar
Farming is not exempt from the fluctuations of exchange rates between these major currencies. I am not an economist, though I have to understand the basic effects on our business to maximize or minimize the effect of these fluctuations. If the pound weakens, it makes the export of home produced grain better value to other European countries. Conversely if it strengthens, exporting is tougher and depresses the price at home if there is surplus stock. It also affects the annual Single Payment which is paid to all EU members in Euros. The rate is known in advance but, as the UK is not in the Eurozone, conversion into sterling is calculated on the exchange rate on 30th September. This can vary by as much as + / – 20% depending on currency markets. Last year, and ongoing, we are fixing the rate of exchange on a forward contract on a day, or days, when the foreign exchange market is better ( for us ) than if we leave ourselves at the mercy of the rate on the day. At least we have a figure to budget to.
Farms have become an increasingly frequent target for thieves who are on the look out for scrap metal, easily disposable small machinery or power tools and anything else that is available on their opportunistic visits. Thieves who often approach across fields and cut locks. They may well have made a ‘recce’ visit by van enquiring after scrap whilst having a good look round. Draining diesel from tractor tanks and cutting catalytic converters from exhaust systems are also not uncommon ‘activities’.
I see more dead Badgers on the side of the road in this area than I used to. You may have read about, and indeed have a strong view on, the culling of Badgers in the West Country. Not everyone agrees, but the general consensus is that Badgers infected with TB transmit the disease to cattle. This disease in humans has been successfully controlled and virtually eradicated over the last 100 years through a strict immunization policy in schools and slaughtering cattle herds that shown persistent infection. TB can be transmitted through milk though pasteurization neutralizes the agent. Should Badgers in high ‘risk locations’ be culled, or immunized, the latter being a slow process: or should the status quo remain with the livelihoods of cattle farmers be affected by the culling of beef and dairy herds?
Grandchild and Legacy
Many of you know that my father Michael died at the end of last year just short of his 96th birthday. Towards the end of August our first grandchild is due to be born. The cycle of life continues, with joy and sadness inevitable mixed. When next I write I hope to report on this miracle of birth and my ongoing thoughts on legacy and stewardship.
Please give me feedback about whether you want to read about farming, and if so, are there aspects, other than those I cover that you would like to k now more about. Otherwise I will dry up or become boringly repetitive!
Until then I wish you a refreshing and enjoyable ‘summer break’.