The bitter north and north east winds are drying up the very wet soils and as I write field work is becoming possible.
Pigeons are simply starving having exhausted all of the berries and nuts, and with no clover growth and little spring drilling completed so far oilseed rape is their staple diet. Considerable damage is being done as the forward crops are sending up a main stem with flower buds visible and the pigeons are actually grazing the flower buds as well as the leaves.
In extreme cases the side branches are also being removed and the ability of even strongly rooted plants to compensate would seem to be compromised. We are spending every afternoon shooting at pigeons until they go to roost. Often they are oblivious to gas guns and not much more concerned when they are being shot at.
We have applied sulphur nitrogen to all of the oilseed rape but with low temperatures it has had little effect. Similarly the second wheats have all had nitrogen applied and again with little sign of growth. In fact any wheat crops on heavy ground with poor drainage have gone backwards in the last month to the point where large areas are brown and look more likely to die than grow. Clearly the rains since Christmas have waterlogged soils and caused root death just when plants have tried to grow. If the current conditions continue far into April a lot of winter sown crops are going to have a poor start to a cold late spring.
At Agri-Expo there was a European Union referendum debate which concluded with a show of hands which looked from the stage to be a small majority for remaining in but with a good 30% undecided. An unscientific vote by using ping pong balls put in a remain or leave box as the audience left gave a surprising majority for leave – and that from a farming orientated audience.
As we get nearer the day no doubt the polls may be clearer but David Cameron knows he has a fight on his hands to get a majority to vote to remain in. No doubt that is why he is fully engaged with this referendum – although the small matter of Boris Johnson auditioning for his job by championing the leave campaign has got his attention as well. In fact it has taken the whole debate and poll to a different level as the possibility of the UK leaving Europe has become more realistic with Johnson’s decision.
I remain of the view that for farming it is a simple decision as we have the certainty of support, trade and labour if we stay in. The trade argument is not just us exporting but the imports of European agricultural produce as well with common support, the single market and common standards. Put simply we know where we are and staying in means we will know where we are going. The trade arguments and labour availability apply to nearly every business in the country and as far as I can see that is also a simple decision based on business interests.
So should the UK as a nation stay or go. As a country with low business taxes relative to most European countries, with a relatively flexible labour market compared to the rest of Europe, world class financial services, a growing economy, our own currency and control of interest rates why would we want to leave the biggest trading block in the world when all of those benefits act as a magnet for investment into the UK as a gateway to Europe? That is still the business argument on a national scale but most of us can remember when our economy made us the sick man of Europe rather than a beacon of growth within the EU.
The result is the incentive that causes the flow of labour from Europe to the UK with all the pressures that brings. But that willing labour has also kept wage inflation under control – or at least until this chancellor introduced the national living wage and has contributed to our continued growth. If we fall into recession with European countries growing no doubt we will see an outflow of labour and history suggests our own indigenous population is perfectly capable of leaving in those circumstances to find a better more prosperous life. As a nation we do enjoy a special place in the EU with a number of advantages and leaving would be a waste of that hard won position.
Finally there is the personal level and ultimately that will probably determine how most people vote. There are concerns over free movement of labour and migration but countering that we have seen Europe at peace for all of my life time. We all have family relatives and ancestors that were affected by the great wars fought between European nations. Gradually those generations with first hand knowledge of those events are leaving us but we should remember that today the threats are external to Europe and value the peace within Europe.
So in conclusion for me it is a simple answer: at all levels we should vote to remain in Europe and I fully intend to do just that.