Quietly optimistic

Writers Posted 01/02/18
No sooner had I written the article for January and the weather changed.

The weather has changed from benign and dry to very windy and wet. I did enjoy the Water Authority spokesman on local television news making the public case for an extraction application to the EA taking water from the Medway into Bewl Reservoir even if it reduces flow rates in the Medway.

Bewl Reservoir looked suitably depleted and along with warnings about summer hose pipe bans as background information the weather forecast changed almost overnight to heavy rain which duly arrived. I have to admit to being caught out doing media presentations about drought over the years when the forecast is changing and we know nature can very soon change conditions. It is not quite a rain dance but it certainly tempts fate. Any way we have seen about 140% of our annual December rainfall and January has carried on in similar vein. From dry soils to water everywhere on the surface at least and plenty of water flowing in rivers such as the Beult that lead into the Medway. Flooding was even in the news within a few days, albeit more to do with the risk of storm surge and coastal flooding than fluvial flooding. I am sure the water authorities are happy, as are many of the horticultural producers who are seeing rapidly filling reservoirs for on farm use during the coming year.

As the forecast changed I rather lost my nerve in the waiting game we play to get the latest possible application of Kerb onto oilseed rape crops. We did have enough cold weather to knock the crop canopies back enough to see soil and at that point we applied Astro Kerb to all of our oilseed rape between 17 and 22 December. As we were doing it I rather thought I had bottled the decision by going too early but feel happier now as the way it is raining there might not be another opportunity and in the war on grass weeds in oilseed rape, as well as the rest of the rotation, it is vital to apply Kerb products to oilseed rape.

While the grassweed activity is always a bit of a slow burn the broadleaved activity has been quick and impressive and I think that is to do with crops and weeds still growing. Certainly on the better sunny days oilseed rape looks green and as if it is growing having hardly stopped this winter. If you look in the crop there are plants showing signs of stem elongation even in early January and that is interesting if not a concern. As above, the weather can soon change that and other parts of the world look fairly cold. To my amazement and pleasure we still have not seen any significant numbers of pigeons nor any damage and long may that continue.

Wheat crops are also showing clear signs of growth. Already they look thick enough and with last year’s lodged crops fresh in the memory I anticipate that we will not be stinting on growth regulators and may well be reducing as well as delaying nitrogen applications. Even the later drilled crops which have at times looked depressingly thin and backward are filling in and look far more encouraging. There is very little rabbit damage and up until the weather broke it was fairly easy to travel on fields and shoot them. All in all as January begins to pass I am quietly optimistic about how crops look for the time of year and as every day passes and we have a little more day length winter is getting shorter whatever it throws at us.

I did read Michael Gove’s speech to the Oxford Farming conference with interest. If ever there was a speech that promised something to everyone that was it, with the exception of anyone who actually wants to farm and needs to know how that will all join together into a coherent policy for farming. I fully realise that having been brought back from the wilderness and given the opportunity to rescue his career he is going to take a long hard look at where potential votes and improved popularity are to be gained. This government certainly needs both. We heard plenty about the green wash aspects of policy going forward including a nod towards improved pubic access. On that matter most of the urban population of north Kent took matters into their own hands years ago and there is no going back. Another nod towards a new national forest. How many years ago was it that a Conservative led government was consulting on disposing of the Forestry Commission and all of its publicly owned woodlands. I suppose what goes around comes around. A firm nod to higher animal welfare and environmental standards. We are to be a country that surveys its competitors from the lofty uplands of world beating standards not partaking in a competitive race to the bottom but aloof from such real word competition. I thought the EU was headed into an increasingly uncompetitive position regarding agricultural production but Gove perhaps senses an opportunity to trump Europe at least in regulation after all we have always had a world class bureaucracy. Then again was that not one of his reasons for seeking to free us from the yoke of European servitude to cut the level of regulation but perhaps it was to free us to have our very own enhanced British regulation. Enough cynicism, Gove’s five year transition period is welcome and that is a long time in politics and political careers although perhaps not that long in an industry such as farming.


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