Cutting it fine due to the wild and wet days of May

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The promise of an early spring has turned into a really tricky one which is becoming quite a late spring on weald clay. Plenty of grass everywhere but no chance of cutting silage or grazing other than young stock which is difficult enough. Drilling maize is challenging as we snatch a few acres in between the really wet days.

I need to take more young stock to Tillington to cope with the grass growth and no fertilizer has been applied since March! I am told that from the middle of this week it is going to change dramatically as high pressure will dominate, but this is no heat wave as predicted in some papers, the remainder of May will be changeable and difficult according to the Met office.

I am getting worried about both maize drilling and silage making; maize drilling because we have so much left to do and silage making needs to take place before the grass starts to deteriorate in quality. We have another week before both grass silage and maize silage become critical, and I can only hope that we can push on. We have drilled about 300 acres of maize and although it took over two weeks, the maize at Milford and Tillington is up and growing; mind you so are the weeds, and to date it has not been possible to spray due to rain, wet soil conditions or wind.

The cows have dipped in performance this month and the root cause is the first cut silage which we made in the clamps last May and then had to dig out and put in an Ag-Bags. I had two bags of this (around 800 tonnes) and as we approach the end of the first bag having had nothing but excellent quality silage and good production, we have come across the sort of problem I expected all along. The grass silage at this end of the bag was the first to be dug out of the clamp and was therefore unstable and it is not particularly nice and seems to be very acid.

This is causing the cows to suffer from mild acidosis which has dropped their production by a litre or so, affected our butterfat levels and is causing the cows to vary their intake which makes feeding them difficult. They either run out of food or there is a lot left over in the troughs, which very quickly becomes heated. We are feeding ‘oyster-shells’ (!) to combat the acidity which is a first, but recommended by the nutritionist, and the milk seems to be recovering slowly.

Fortunately we caught this in time, as we had noticed that the cows’ dung is not only loose but frothy; a sure sign that there is a problem.

There is a fox at Tillington attempting to break into Gwenan’s hen house. As I do not have the time to sit around for hours waiting for him with a gun, we have put in place a fox trap with some tasty bacon as bait. Up until now we have only caught cats, the record being all five of Gwenan’s cats being in the trap one morning! The fox has been in though, as he took the bacon without treading on the steel plate as the cats would not have a long enough neck (or the intelligence!) to do that. We will catch him, otherwise I will need to get my friend ‘Ray the pigeon shooter’ to go over there and sort him out.

We are looking to drill for water in order to cut down our water bill which is pretty expensive. We invited a man from Ashdown Forest to come and see if we had any water on the farm, and when he arrived I could tell immediately from his attire of shorts and sandals who he was. I gave him a map with the old bore-hole (which was apparently not very good) marked on it for his information and offered to drive him around. I was taken aback when he said that we should look for water as near to the farm buildings as possible, and that he would start with a spot of ‘map dousing’.

Map dousing is where he passes his fingers over the map and goes into a bit of a trance whilst he does so, and then announced that there is a good source of water not far from the buildings! We drive to the spot and he produces his water diviners (two metal rods bent at 90 degrees so that they fit in his hands) and walks over the spot and immediately they wave around and they cross; signalling water. This is very good he said, there is a stream 75 feet down and another much better one 125 feet down crossing over each other. Some more divining and he states that the flow is excellent at 750 gallons an hour, and a rather more concentrated trance as he passed over the spot enabled him to tell me that the water is indeed of drinking quality. We were done in less than an hour, and now we know.

Sir Ben Gill died last week after a long illness. Ben was President of the NFU from 1998-2004 having been Deputy President from 1992-1998. A vocal and passionate advocate of agriculture, Ben had a tough Presidency with the BSE crisis, Foot and mouth and ‘live exports’ to contend with. He was a tough individual, highly intelligent who did not suffer fools gladly!

He became a National figure during the Foot and Mouth crisis, showing great strength of character as pressure mounted, playing a key role in leading the industry through a serious crisis.

I see that the recession is over. Well it is according to one of the leading economic bodies, and we are now very close as a country, to pre-recession peak after the slowest recovery ever (two years more than the Depression of the 1930s). This is very good news, but I was surprised to read that the USA is already 6.5% larger than its pre-depression peak, and that the UK is amongst the last of the major economies to recover. Indeed France is also poised to regain lost ground and how much have we heard of France’s troubles under Francois Hollande? It does seem that governments have little to do with economic recovery, and that a Chancellor is merely a passenger?

It is good to see reported that business investment is expected to rise sharply; whilst consumer spending is all well and good in supporting growth, it usually leads to greater personal debt if left unchecked.

The pace of recovery in this country has taken most forecasters by surprise, and the UK is set to lead recovery, outstripping the USA and other countries. Unemployment is reducing sharply with more than a million jobs created in the last four years, and confidence is riding high on the back of rising house prices which also pose the greatest threat to the economy. Interest rates are expected to stay low for another year, although countries like Sweden are tightening up on lending, but we have an election in 2015 and government will want to steam into that at full throttle.