The seasons creep up so fast; we are already approaching the end of another ‘farming’ year. Harvest for the traditional cereal crops is all but complete, although there is a little way to go for maize and vegetables.
The only crop we grew this year was spring barley, made necessary because, along with a number of local farmers, we were let down by our nearby ‘digester unit’ at rather short notice and needed to seek alternatives.
Cereals were never my favourite crop to grow and this was the first since 1969 on the home farm. Yet on other land, with no cattle now for coming up to two years, there has been constant activity. The block of arable land, a bit north in the Arun Valley, is let, mainly growing green beans and sweetcorn, both dependent on irrigation, and crops did well after a slow start.
Usually in summer the land is busy with irrigators, although this year, with significant rainfall, they were required less. On the downland farm, winter-sown wheat established well, came through the early drought in March and progressed steadily to harvest; the land is now hosting fodder turnips for winter sheep keep.
Some 40 acres of the land is into maize and again, after a very dry start, looks excellent as it approaches harvest. Comfortably exceeding “Knee high by the fourth of July”, it looks set for a heavy crop for cutting later this month.
On the higher chalk land, the vineyard is now starting to take shape and is appearing better organised; the deer fences were erected in July and have given the vines a chance to establish themselves, free of nightly visits from the growing herd of, mainly, fallow deer that had been attracted by easy access over the past year.
Our old dairy ‘liquid disposal’ system remains in place across the farm, but the vines have not needed any help and are now looking very encouraging. Their appearance has been greatly enhanced by Emma, who is on regular secondment to the vineyard for the growing period and has spent many hours with a new ‘roller hacke’ (German inter-vine sidehoe) and flail mower, controlling the weeds between the vines and the grass between the rows.
It is amazing how fast vineyard equipment develops, and needs to, because the requirement for scarce labour is huge and the only practical way to keep on top of work is with the new innovations.
I don’t think it will be long before they have the whole control system run by robotic, satellite-controlled machines, driven by batteries, doing all the land work. Although the management of the actual vines will, I think, surely need to be by hand labour for a few years to come, automated grape picking is already developing fast.
It is certainly exciting to see all these changes, although the ‘old cattleman’ in me still misses the animals immensely. And yet looking through the pages of recent dairy magazines makes me so pleased we sold the herd and got out when we did, in early 2018.
The tables of milk prices today make it really hard to understand why dairy farming continues any more in many parts of the UK.
Apart from the abysmal milk prices, the TB situation seems to be getting progressively worse, even more so than it was at the end of the last decade. Testing has become more onerous, culling rates more depressing and the environmental pressures greater. The new Mrs Johnson simply has too much influence on Boris and does not seem to understand the real countryside.
If badger numbers are not strongly controlled and/or an effective anti-TB jab for cattle, similar to that for coronavirus, developed very soon, giving similar results, I fear the dairy industry in the UK is doomed. There is only so much farmers can take; it’s simply been going from bad to worse for too long now.
It is somewhat less devastating for beef finishers because when they lose cattle they get compensation and then go and buy in more stores, while dairymen lose their main production and reproductive units, their milking cows.
But this isn’t appreciated by the majority of the public because they ‘know’ milk comes from the supermarket shelves. Yet it may not be the case for much longer. Every time one turns on the radio or TV these days one is bombarded with ‘green’ issues, such as environmental concerns, water use, rewilding, loss of ‘flower meadows’ (pretty ragwort and dungweed?) and the like.
It is all pretty depressing, the manner in which agriculture is being blamed for things which in many parts of the world would be hailed as success stories. Agricultural development since the middle of the last century has been phenomenal, based on several key areas.
Firstly machinery, which replaced traditional horse power from the late forties. Following close behind was the development of chemical sprays to suppress weeds and pests, providing the public with adequate food on local shelves. While many of these sprays have been withdrawn on health grounds over the years, the overall benefits have been astounding.
We have been so fortunate. How much would our British systems be welcomed in huge parts of Africa and Asia? The people who constantly complain on full stomachs are far more fortunate than those who complain on empty ones, or quietly die of starvation.
In the meantime my recent adventure with cereals draws to a close; spring barley, grown because the local AD plant decided it didn’t want any maize this year, leaving me with a choice of bare land or barley. The crop was wonderful but storms in June flattened it and all the pigeons south of the M4 feasted on it. Never again…