Fine weather last week despite the threat of heavy rain and thunder especially towards the weekend which failed to materialise, meant that farmers were able to start harvest in some areas and cut grass silage for the second time this year.
As we move two groups of heifers every day behind the electric wire, giving them a fresh break of grass to eat, it has been remarkably easy to push the posts into the ground, but it is now getting difficult and a good barometer of how dry the ground is. We do have plenty of grass at the moment, but the pressure will be on in two to three weeks if it remains dry.
We have some fencing to do after the heifers broke out due to a tremendous firework display locally, which frightened them. It was apparently spectacular and very loud, but as we were still in France at the time, the letter kindly informing us of the event remained unopened. My niece Alaw was left to sort it all out when she came to move the fences the next day and found there were none! The heifers had swept the temporary electric fences before them and also broken through the main electric fence around the paddock.
The maize at Tillington is now over six feet tall. We certainly had a few worries again this spring when we planted fairly early and it got off to a slow start, and the wet weather brought a forest of weeds which took two spray applications to sort out. Unlike last year the plant did not suffer and continued to grow, and has really motored in the last four weeks and is very happy in the warm weather. Most maize crops look good this year, but there are a few patchy and uneven ones around.
The agricultural show season is well underway, and at the Yorkshire Show last week there was a great deal of concern over falling beef prices, and in particular the pressure brought by Irish imports. The movement in sterling has not helped matters, but market fundamentals dictate that this is a problem which will remain for the coming weeks. Rabobank however have indicated that towards the third quarter of this year things will improve, and that prices will strengthen. Farmers are quite rightly pointing to much higher costs and the impact of bovine TB.
Their appeal is to the supermarkets to deliver on their commitments following the horse meat scandal, which now seemed to have been forgotten. The problem is that Irish beef prices have slumped which is keeping the pressure on the British market. A ‘Beef Summit’ was held in Westminster the week before, and retailers were asked to promote British beef in order to lift sales. In fairness just a few days later Tesco did indeed launch a half price promotion on beef steaks over the weekend, and the biggest retailer in the UK took adverts in national newspapers to announce that it was dropping the price. Waitrose have lifted the price paid to their suppliers by 5p per kilo to £3.45, and this will stay until the autumn.
However, farming leaders are asking for more. They want an Ombudsman to oversee the relationship between producers and processors. NFU President Meurig Raymond was critical of processors additional deductions which lowered the prices to farmers further. Processors are now very few extremely large players, who are in most cases dedicated to certain retailers. Margins are slim to non-existent, and it does seem to me that the farmer or the processor makes money; but not at the same time. There is such pressure in the food chain, that when I visit processors I find that most are operating at the very edge, but due to their size the tiny margins made multiply up when things go well periodically, but it is a very precarious business.
Dramatic developments in Wales last week as controversial Minister Alun Davies was sacked for asking civil servants to provide him with details of Common Agricultural Policy payments to political opponents. Farmers will not be shedding many tears after a very difficult time with Mr Davies who proved to be unwilling to listen and a difficult man to deal with. Some thought that he had been very lucky to keep his job following an earlier problem concerning breaching Ministerial guidelines over a £280 million motor racing circuit earmarked for his constituency. I only met Alun Davies twice and found him almost looking for controversy.
Prior to 2013 when Alun Davies was promoted from Deputy Farming Minister, to Minister for Natural Resources and Food (unable to bring themselves to put farming in the title), the role was carried out by three people, and to the disappointment of all in agriculture, this is now the case once again. Although Gower Assembly Minister Edwina Hart is the new Natural Resources and Food Minster, a great deal of the agricultural brief will be covered by Mid and West Wales AM Rebecca Evans the new Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, with Culture and Sport Minster John Griffiths taking the environment brief.
How much difference this will make to Welsh farmers is unclear, but they will hopefully have someone who is rather easier to deal with, and more prepared to listen and see the downside to some of their thoughts and ideas before taking action. Meanwhile in Westminster a re-shuffle is mooted, and our own Secretary of State Owen Patterson is under threat. If Cameron moves him out, he will upset many on the back-benches and in the House of Lords, where Patterson has powerful friends.
I see that aircraft manufacturers are gearing up to handle 7 billion passengers a year by 2033, which is about the global population at present. By then, the annual number of internal flights in China will have overtaken the domestic USA market! This means that the number of planes in the sky will double from 21,000 to 42,000 by 2033. Although a quarter of the existing planes will still be in service, aircraft manufacturers are planning to build five jetliners every day for the next 20 years to meet this demand.
At $100 million each for the workhorse of the sky, and $400 million for the really big planes, I can see that this is big business. Where does this leave us with the small matter of climate change and environmental issues? I’m sure that new aircraft will be more fuel efficient, but I don’t see them being treated as harshly as cars and motorists. Whilst work goes on to try and reduce methane produced by dairy cows and other farm animals, are we slightly out of balance here? Doesn’t it feel as if we are fiddling with deck chairs?