A total contrast to the winter, when the forecast gave a shower for Kent and we got at least 13mm and showers turned up interspersed with rain three times a week. While we have seen considerably worse droughts in recent times this is beginning to cause concern – not least as the South East corner and Kent in particular seem to be suffering from the low rainfall while it is less of a problem elsewhere in the country.
A further feature of this spring is the wind which seems to be incessant, often cold from the north east and generally removing all moisture from the soil immediately after any rain.
The story on crops remains much the same with winter wheats holding up well in the dry conditions and the only diseases of leaf destroying consequence being the rusts. Admittedly rust is easy to find in the untreated areas around telegraph poles. But in well protected crops that is the limit of it and we have topped up protection with robust T3 sprays to ensure we do not see late infections. Winter oilseed continues to enjoy the dry conditions and canopies look well with minimal disease at this stage and good pod set.
Beans certainly are not as happy and both winter and spring show signs of distress with leaves wilting in the heat of the day. We have also seen black bean aphid infections rapidly escalate to threshold levels and need treating. In the winter beans even with regular insecticides for bruchid beetle, it is easy to find eggs laid on early set pods. For winter beans destined for feed use that is not too serious but with the number of spring beans in the ground it is essential we keep bruchid damage to a minimum as the human consumption premium may well be the difference between profit and loss on the crop.
Spring barley from the early drilled rapidly emerged crops look good and are at full ear emergence with fungicide programmes about to be completed. The late emerged crops are all on heavy clay and only really emerged with the May rain whatever the drilling date. They are going to be disappointing without further substantial rain. Spring crops! I really did think I had done with them 30 years ago. Then along came black grass and common agricultural policy reform.
Briefly on the subject of black grass – since it featured on Country File – non farming friends have been asking whether we have the problem and what my long term control strategy is etc. Courtesy of the BBC the problem has entered the public domain and is raising concerns, however fleetingly. It is a shame the issue of bovine TB which often features on the programme has not caused similar concerns.
I cannot resist commenting on Liz Truss’s reappointment as secretary of state for DEFRA. It was on her watch that the details of basic payment scheme implementation were defined and the computer system purchased. At least David Cameron is leaving her in post to sort out the mess that she contributed to making. Whether her career survives the fallout later in the year depends on how the process is managed from here on.
Rural Payments Agency staff, time and resources are going to be critical at a time when the Treasury is seeking a further £83 million in savings from DEFRA – not extra expense. Mark Grimshaw, current chief executive of the RPA, has said he intends to stay in post to resolve the issues with the new system and he has been allocated enough resources to achieve a majority of payments made in December and the vast majority by the end of January. Only time will tell.
On a brighter note we will have the Kent Show on 10, 11 and 12 July. Elsewhere in South East Farmer, you will see adverts for the show and everything that is going on, including a display by the Red Arrows on Friday 10 July. I am pleased to say that two of Kent’s leading agricultural machinery dealers, Burden Brothers and Haynes have taken stand space at the show and this is a step forward in seeing agriculture return to play a bigger part, so I am grateful to both businesses.
Through Produced in Kent we also have a large number of farming businesses who have added value to their basic produce and now sell direct to the public, not just at the Kent Show but year round through farmers markets and on line. I doubt anyone will be combining that early in July so please take the time to visit on one of the days.