What a relief, rain at last. Almost the middle of May (9th) and we have, at last, had a half decent drop of rain. I don’t know what happened to April showers this year, but we didn’t see a lot of them.

April rainfall nationally was only 71% of the monthly average with significantly less than that in the South East. This, along with some very cold nights, has of course, impacted quite dramatically on grass growth and availability, at the beginning of the month it was only about half of what it was last year at about 40kg DM/ha/day compared with 80kg last year and has decreased quite ominously since. This is just what we didn’t need, particularly when soil moisture levels are still trying to make up the deficit generated by the hot and dry weather of last summer and compounded by a very much drier than average winter. Unfortunately, I suspect that now we have had some rain and as soil moisture levels pick up, a number of the earlier heading varieties, having come under a bit of moisture stress, will do their best to head as soon as they can. It may be out with the topper sooner than expected.

Climate change or not, weather patterns are undeniably changing quite dramatically, something that we all need to consider when considering future production and forage (not just grass) crop management. Drought tolerance and changing weather patterns will become an increasingly important aspect of species and variety selection, some of the newer varieties of Festuloliums, for example, seem to have a great potential, having demonstrated better than average performance in both cold winters and dryer summers.

One thing that I have found quite noticeable over the past couple of weeks has been that, the herb species in the sward, yarrow and plantain in particular, have simply kept on growing, a good illustration of the value of deeper-rooted forage species in a mix, add to this the high mineral content and palatability of the herb species in a sward and they do make a significant contribution to both lamb growth and production and sheep health.

Apart from the weather things seem to be bobbing along quite nicely, lambs keep on growing well, although there does appear to be a bit, but not much, of a gap opening up between the best and the worst as grass supplies tighten. An indication, I suspect, of better lamb foraging abilities now that mum’s contribution to growth has started to tail off, something worth making a note of for when it comes to selecting replacements. Sheep trade continues to be ok, not at all exciting, but ok, although trade in new season’s lambs seems to be rather less ok than good hoggets.

The singular lack of progress any meaningful negotiations makes it look increasingly like Brexit will not happen until the autumn, which has taken the pressure off the lamb trade in the short term, but uncertainty still hovers over the sheep sector like the sword of Damocles – hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Once again farming seems to have become the target for all sorts of adverse publicity, anyone with half a brain, little understanding of the industry and their own anti-farming/anti livestock agenda seems to think that we are fair game. Woefully much of the criticism is, biased, unsubstantiated, at best, ill informed, generally misinformed and all too frequently just plain lies. And there are plenty who seem to be quite happy to absorb, unquestioningly, the anti farming rhetoric if it helps to bolster their own agenda and, particularly, if it is leant weight and status by some minor celebrity, often seeking to raise their own profile to bolster failing media standing.

I really do get the distinct feeling that we, as a society, have got our priorities entirely wrong, it is easy to criticise the sheep sector, particularly when bolstered by the confidence of ignorance. We are an industry comprised of thousands of individual producers each with a miniscule media profile and a sector that operates across a tremendous range of conditions, environments, systems, geographical locations etc., but which tends to be lumped together under a single global based sheep production banner.

In reality as an efficient, productive, largely grass based system we contribute very little to the nation’s carbon footprint, certainly once the benefits accruing from carbon sequestration are entered into the equation the sheep sectors contribution to CO2, emissions is minimal at worst and at best could even be negative.

Compare this to an activity such as football, personally I don’t see the point, but thousands do and I applaud those English teams that have qualified for both the UEFA Champions League final, in Madrid and the Europa League Final to be played in Baku. But, and it is a very big but! Liverpool and Tottenham have each been allocated 16,800 tickets to the final – a total of 33,600 possible fans traveling to Madrid. If only 75% of them fly a return flight to Madrid from Heathrow will generate about 0.5t of CO2 per head a total of 199,644 t/CO2, Arsenal and Chelsea have an allocation 6,000 tickets for Baku (and pushing for more), using the same formula (but inserting 1.5t CO2 per head, Baku is a lot further) this adds a further 13,550 t/CO2, for two days of football events, a total of 213,144 t/CO2. Estimates vary for sheep, but seem to be around about 11kg CO2 per kg lwt/ per year. If we say the average ewe weighs about 75kg that is a total of about 825 kg CO2 per head per year and this disregards the impact of sequestration. I hope that you are following this. But it would seem that two days of football, which after all is only a game, could generate as much CO2 as 258,360 odd ewes do in a year, producing quality meat, efficiently off grass, some of it in areas totally unsuitable for any other for other forms of food production, to feed the nation and beyond, and we are the ones being censured by the media.

Once again I question whether we, as a society, have got our priorities correct or is it simply that we are an easy target. Isn’t it time that we worked together to make our collective voice heard rather more vociferously?