Farm diary: Welcome rain washes off the dust of a hot summer

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Another very sunny week which was very pleasant indeed as temperatures were slightly lower, but rain was on its way and was already falling in other parts of the country.

Rain was forecasted in our area too but we seemed to miss it each time until Saturday night when some very steady rain arrived which was much needed.

We have managed to keep Crouchlands green with our dirty water but the hot dry weather was preventing real growth, and that might now change.

The maize badly needed a drink, and the end of July is good timing as the cobs form and the plants need moisture in order to fill the grain.

Sunday morning had that very fresh smell, all the dust washed off plants and trees and the little birds were chirping away very happily. We moved heifers on Saturday morning to some fresh grass and hopefully it will last them a little longer now, giving other fields time to grow and provide grazing next month.

This cooler weather will be good for the dairy cows as they struggle in the heat, dropping about a litre a day during the hot weather as intakes fall. Just as we tend to eat less when it’s hot, they don’t have the same appetite either and it is very difficult to keep their food fresh as it heats up and becomes unpalatable very quickly. This means that troughs need to be cleaned out very often, three or four times a week and that is a pretty warm job I can tell you.

Silage clamps are difficult to manage especially maize, and we hope that when we change to the ‘Ag-Bag’ silage, which will have a much smaller silage face, it will be easier to keep things cool.

The contractors did not want rain, but they have had a good run and they are at least now working on a concrete platform as they begin to form the base of the tank.

Just as before, a plastic sheet is put down on the concrete working platform and a felt material is placed under very thick insulation, before tonnes of weldmesh is very carefully placed on blocks so that it ends up in the middle of the tank floor as reinforcement when the concrete is poured. This is slow laborious work, but once the tank floor is constructed things will move very fast and we should see a real difference each week once the cranes arrive to lift the concrete panels which will form the tank wall, into place.

My niece Alaw Jones is here for the fourth year to provide relief milking cover whilst Adrian and Tim are on holiday. She has now finished her agricultural degree course at Harper Adams University and has done very well. Milking is good therapy and she has plenty of time to consider what she is going to do now and which area of agriculture she wants to involve herself in.

She upset the cows the other day when she tuned into Radio 1, as the cows like to listen to ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’ on radio 2 and made their displeasure known in the usual way. The radio was swiftly re-tuned to the appropriate channel in order to cut down on the cleaning!

We have just had James Anderson and his wife Tarryn stay with us overnight. James is a fellow Nuffield Scholar from Perth in Australia and as we had not seen them for 14 years there was a lot of catching up to do. When James was over on his Nuffield he had a sheep station with 65,000 sheep to look after, which took several weeks to shear, producing 1500 bales of wool at the time.

In true Nuffield fashion he recognised a good opportunity when he saw one and sold up to a rapidly expanding forestry company spending other people’s money. James now runs a successful business putting up buildings for farmers, hobby farmers, industrial units and any other kind of shed anyone wants. Rather than flying over Perth on the way to and from Sydney, we will need to call in next time and visit.

We had a near miss last week when our cooling system failed on the bulk milk tank; this always happens in hot weather adding to the problem. We have a fairly fail safe system in that we have mains water cooling the milk initially with iced water cooling taking the milk down to 4 degrees Celsius, and tank cooling as a back-up. Suddenly we had no ice, and we saw that one of the two compressors had thrown the trip switch.

When the engineer arrived he found that one compressor had indeed died, but the other which was running had no gas! This meant that both compressors were out of action leaving us with no ice, or tank cooling. He fitted a brand new compressor, and then it took an hour or so to gas up the other, having found that the gas pipe had chaffed on the stainless steel cabinet. Before he had finished the job, the brand new compressor blew up!

We are now running on one compressor which is fine as long as it keeps running, whilst they wait for their new compressors which are on order, to arrive. Nail biting time as we check the ice several times during the day; so far, so good.

As the GM debate has been raging of late with Secretary of State Owen Patterson supporting the technology, but Monsanto pulling out of Europe as it was wasting its time and money, I am indebted to Ross Clark writing in The Times for taking the Soil Association to task for calling Own Patterson’s support of GM ‘racist and imperialist’.

As Ross Clark points out, this is a little rich coming from the Soil Association which was co-founded by Jorian Jenks, a farmer and genuine fascist from Angmering in West Sussex (who also went to Harper Adams). Jenks was probably the most influential figure in the organic movement, and whilst agricultural adviser to the British Union of Fascists, he wanted prices fixed, foreign foods banned (so far so good I hear some farmers mutter), and a land army established to seize the land of any farmer who cultivated in a way that deviated from Jenk’s own ideals.

Although the Soil Association has moved on and its policies are somewhat different these days, one still smarts at the bossy attitude of the organisation which has not changed. Whilst GM is certainly not the only answer, it is another way of increasing yields, developing plants which will grow in difficult climates and yes, increase profitability for farmers. Whilst opponents pretend that none of this is happening, why are so many farmers all over the world embracing the technology? Whilst Europe is left behind as pressure groups pray on emotions and frighten politicians, their real opposition is to capitalism and big business. No doubt this debate will be with us for some time, but at the moment the eco-warriors and the luddites have the upper hand.

Gwyn Jones