Weather or Not

Weather or not

The very dry weather continues. Only 12” have fallen since the beginning of September 2010. This is very bad news for crops in this area, particularly those sown in the spring. Our winter wheat is suffering and we estimate a potential yield loss of 25% as I write, and it’s likely to become higher as there is no sign of significant rainfall to overcome the soil moisture defecit. Some areas of the country had a good 1” or more last week end (7/8 May) but we had less than ¼”.

This is all part of the challenge of farming

Virtually the whole of Europe is suffering from lack of rainfall. Ironically the area that is not suffering is the Spanish and French Mediterranean coast !

There is also widespread drought across the main wheat growing areas of the U S apparently although the Missouri/Missisippi river is on the highest level of flood alert since 1925.

Strange goings on weather wise . . .


Oakley: a month in the life of a wheat plant

My comments in the May issue were relevant for a normal season, but this isn’t one. Oakley is suffering and there is nothing we can do to help. The plants are stressed and a paler green than they should be. Fungicide will be applied to combat fungal ‘ rust’ disease which is prevalent in these conditions. The top flag leaf and the grain bearing ear must be kept healthy in order to have the maximum surface area to photosynthesise, and make the most of difficult conditions.

Wheat prices have remained high though volatile on the back of a world -wide reduction in strategic reserves and harvest predictions. This should offset the yield reduction, if those prices remain.

The worst effects of the drought on wheat can be seen on ‘light’ sand and chalk soils. Our heavier clay soils hang on to moisture relatively better. The best resistance to the drought seems to be where we had years of grassland and a consequent build up of fertility and water retaining organic matter.


Elsewhere on the Farm

About 15 years ago we planted Chestnut trees down the farm drive. The leaves on most of them are turning brown by mid May. Is this drought stress from which they will recover, or the ‘ new chestnut fungal disease from which they may not? It will be a shame if we lose them. It takes the best part of a generation for a tree to grow to a decent height.


Global Issue

I referred last month to the Foresight Report, published by the UK Chief 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

64 million people in Asia could be pushed into poverty by the record increase in global food prices in the first two months of 2011.

650 price lines slashed at Booker cash and carry.


50 Years Ago: Michael Foster’s Diary Extract from 1961

[listitems is_numeric=”no”]

24th May: spent morning carting 6 tons sugar beet pulp (cattle feed) from Shefford (railway) station

28th May: afternoon spent making tree hut for boys (then aged 10 and 9!) so only 1 hr in the garden in evening.

29th May: very hot all week. Flat out irrigating brussell plants just transplanted (into field for winter hand picking).

18th June: Village Hall Fete[/listitems]


Thought for the Month

Looking at the ‘Warm off the Press’ statistics makes me wonder how complacent we have become in the affluent west.

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