Weather puts a dampener on final maize harvesting

Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary
Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary

Very wet weather is causing difficulties for those who are still harvesting maize. Heavy downpours and thunder were the features of last week’s weather, suddenly stopping and allowing some bright sunshine to shine through.

I have emptied more than three inches from the rain gauge but others have had a lot more rain than that. The temperature has also dropped sharply at night, with the autumn colours now everywhere it shows that winter is on its way.

The UK wheat harvest looks to be the best on record this year as wonderful conditions have enabled arable farmers to average almost three and a half tonnes per acre.

Unfortunately the price has plummeted from around £200 a tonne to almost half that, with future prices looking no better. The problem is that everyone around the world seems to have had a good harvest and the tonnage available on the market has much more than satisfied demand. Analysts at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) believe that prices will stabilise soon and export opportunities will develop.

Beef prices are also stabilising and there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, but there is turmoil in the dairy industry as farmers are divided in their reaction to falling prices.

Farmers for Action (FFA) are out protesting most nights, with talk of 24 hour stoppages taking place as they step up their campaign, which they are promising to keep going until Christmas, hitting retailers and processors alike.

There is anger and fear over the falling prices, with many very worried about their future in the industry or in some cases surviving the winter. Their claim is that the UK market is not as affected as European markets by global milk prices or the Russian ban, and they are claiming that processors and retail power is forcing down the UK price too fast and too low.

They are supported by some industry experts who agree that some of the price cuts are premature, but are equally unsure of where the price will be on some of the ‘formula pricing’ as time goes on. There certainly seems to be a fair amount of support for FFA protests currently with good turnout reported.

The other point of view expressed by farmers and milk buyers, is that this sort of action is very bad for the dairy industry’s public image, and as global markets are subject to volatility, this is the result of a downturn in demand coupled with plentiful supply.

The different views are highlighted in the problems now to be seen in the relationship between the main representative body the NFU, and FFA.

When we last had a crisis in the Dairy Industry which was in 2012, both bodies worked together to form the ‘SOS Dairy Campaign’, culminating in a mass meeting in London where the then Minister Jim Paice was summoned to attend and roundly criticised by dairy farmers for failing to act.

The difference then was that it was quite clear that prices were falling without the clear market movement seen today, and there was little doubt that milk buyers and processors were cutting prices far too hard and not in line with market conditions and returns. Rob Harris the NFU Dairy Board Chairman has set his stall very clearly; protests do not always present the industry in the best light and that negotiations are the way forward. He claims that negotiations are at an advanced stage, and he does not want them jeopardised.

Other commentators are claiming that with a slump in global demand for dairy products, oversupply across the world and the Russian ban will mean that for some dairy farmers the price could fall further.

Rabobank who keep a very close eye on agriculture globally, are saying that recovery will happen, but it will be slow; well into next year. However, the global demand for dairy in the long term is still strong and the future is bright for the dairy industry, but as we have been saying for years, volatility is the biggest problem and it has now truly arrived. No doubt it is going to be difficult to live with at times, and surviving the troughs is going to be the solution for the future.

Whilst all this is going on in agriculture, the fairly disastrous party Conferences made us all sigh with resignation, with politicians running around like headless chickens as they prepare for government, opposition and oblivion. People are even getting fed up with Farage, now completely overshadowed by a Conservative Member of Parliament who defected and is back in Westminster as the first UKIP MP; a sort of magic-less roundabout.

No, what galvanized the country last week was that an outsider won the ‘Great British Bake Off’, as ten million viewers tuned in every week to watch expert bakers competing. Mary Berry the Queen of baking has upset all the experts as she believes it is perfectly healthy to eat sweet, creamy deliciousness as long as we only eat a little of it.

Commonsense really, especially when her ‘energy dense’ delights are always going to be better than the usual ‘energy dead’ snacks available everywhere. Professor Tom Sanders of King’s College agrees that the key is to eat less but enjoy anything you fancy.

Far more controversial has been the competition for the tastiest squirrel burger, promoting grey squirrels as a sustainable and free food source. Organisers of the Forest Showcase Food and Drink Festival in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire want the grey squirrel to join rabbit and pigeon on the British menu.

It was Michelin Star Chef Pascal Aussaignac who suggested that more people should eat grey squirrel and celebrity Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall revealed that he was partial to grey squirrel.

The grey squirrel introduced herein the late 19th century, has since colonised most of the country at the expense of the native red squirrel, and there are estimated to be over 100,000 of them in the forest of Dean alone.

It is a pest, causing a lot of damage in forests, and available in abundance just like rabbits and wood pigeon. The Bristol based ‘Vegetarians International Voice for Animals’ disagrees, claiming that the grey squirrel is an innocent victim of a totally misguided smear campaign.

However, the competition was won a lady who made a ‘Cajun melt’ burger with her squirrel, and second place was taken by a garlic and herb burger with melted Gloucester cheese called the ‘chicken of the tree surprise’. This has been attacked by the ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) who said that ‘Our shops are full of delicious grains, pasta, beans, rice and nuts, almond milks and soya puddings; more and more people are realising that these are not only kinder, but more nourishing than the bodies of dead squirrels’.

I’m not so sure actually, the wildlife we eat as a nation, be it rabbit, hare, pigeon, deer, duck, grouse and so on, are highly nutritious and very lean meat. The grey squirrel would be the same, and as they are culled in large numbers it makes sense not to waste such good meat?