Grass pouring out of the ground as it stays warm


The sunny afternoons last week made me regret not organising the third cut grass silage, but it was not forecasted, and then it rained unexpectedly on Wednesday night which was not forecasted either.

Tricky weather at the moment to say the least, but warm. The grass is pouring out of the ground as it compensates for the long dry period and there are more field mushrooms than I have ever seen at Crouchlands.

We have spent a couple of evenings gathering mushrooms, blackberries and sloes, a rewarding few hours in the evening sunshine. We sent a box full of mushrooms to Wales with Elin Gwenan and Jake who were on a family tour, and as far as Elin and Jake are concerned, a farewell visit before flying off to Australia.

I am writing this early as we are off to France for a week before they leave, and I will report on how France looks this autumn next week. Cultivations and drilling are well underway in the UK and I see local farmers working late into the night as they take advantage of the weather.

We are busy removing cubicles and converting sheds to straw yards, with cows already in the first one. We have also finished parlour modifications for cow comfort and flow, with a proper backing gate on order and some rubber flooring for the cows to stand on before coming into the milking parlour, in the parlour during milking for comfort and as they leave the parlour. We hope these modifications will assist in better cow flow and faster milking. Dairy cows are pampered these days!

It has not surprised me to see the usual dairy industry commentators carping about the market which, according to our levy body ‘Dairy Co’ is not delivering the milk price on farm despite a shortage of milk. Dairy Companies are recruiting farmers aggressively and this is edging prices up, and as we get into winter prices could go higher still.

What has surprised me is commentators complaining that the supermarket groups ‘cost of production’ models are not keeping up. The reason for that is simple; they are based on the cost of production which means that as the volatile market leaps up and down, they remain more stable.

The commentators have used the higher prices paid to these groups quite wrongly over the last few years, as a benchmark for all prices, but now as markets are flying, they seem to think that the price on these contracts should rise too!

Farmers can work out over a period of 5-10 years which contracts suits them best and how well it pays, and I have always said that those who suffer in the downturn, should capitalise on the peaks of the market. Those of us on cost of production contracts should benefit from stability and win at times and also fall behind at times as cost of production and markets rises and fall, usually out of sync.

When producing liquid milk for retailers, there is the extra cost of level production and one does not have the flexibility of block calving for instance, but the reward is a less volatile price and payment for animal welfare and environment improvements.

I am therefore perplexed to see commentators such as Barry Wilson (Dairy Industry Newsletter) stating that these prices are no longer competitive and not working as planned. They certainly are working as planned, but I agree with Barry that if Tesco (who predict forward with their cost-tracker) see a fall in the price as feed prices come down, then they should act on it.

They are either operating a cost of production model or they are not, and if some farmers leave to join other groups who operate in the open market; so be it.

At last, the Labour Party has come out with some policies, and as you could predict, those who have badgered Ed Milliband are the ones now sucking their teeth, saying how dangerous it is to come out with policies so early when in opposition. I welcome the announcements, and I also welcome Ed Milliband’s performance at the Conference; we now have proper choice and competition, and I think this is healthy in a democracy.

Many will rage at the move to the left, and it will be a challenge for Ed Milliband and his team to convince us that they can be trusted with the economy, but many people will resonate with his approach and empathy with ordinary people and the cost of living.

David Cameron has started puffing his chest out (and taking his shirt off!) of late, and whilst he is not as cocky as the Chancellor, it does look as if they are becoming complacent.

The truth is that they have a hell of a battle on their hands as UKIP, despite another disaster at the Conference are taking votes. It is beginning to look as if the centre ground is no longer the place to be.

Ed Milliband’s freeze on power prices has caused a storm, but he is on to something here and I do think the power companies are protesting far too much. We have seen wholesale prices of electricity drop at one point by a third over the last four years, but they continue to rise for household and small businesses, and the regulator does not seem to act.

I suspect if companies raise prices before the freeze, they could live to regret that too if he gets to Number 10. It is ironic that after such a battle to occupy the centre ground, voters are now moving either to the right or to the left; concern about Europe and loss of ‘Britishness’ on the one hand, worry about Public services and the widening gap between rich and poor on the other.

The livestock farmer is unlikely to vote Labour following Mary Creagh’s performance at the Conference in Brighton and threat to stop the badger culling should Labour come to power. Ed Milliband needs to move this woman on before the election as she has little idea about the countryside, the way markets work, or indeed rural life.

She is a vigorous campaigner, tough and not to be underestimated, but I’m not sure if she is Ministerial material and she looks to me like an accident waiting to happen. Farming Minister Hugh Irranca-Davies contradicted the shadow Secretary of State, stating that the current pilot trials in Somerset and Gloucestershire would run their four year course under a Labour Government. Contradictions in opposition are normal, but he would be swatted by his boss if they were in power.

I see that we are introducing plastic notes as money. This is 20 years behind Australia, and I hope ours are not going to be as ‘plasticy’ and as slippery as the Aussie dollar notes. It’s a bit like ‘Monopoly’ money over there, but it has certainly gained in strength against ours. I guess as it lasts longer it will age and become rather more user-friendly, and if your trousers goes into the washing machine with your petty cash in the back pocket it will not be the end of the world?