Rain at last!

 

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I know this may not be a popular view, but the recent heavy downpours have been brilliant.  A definite godsend for farmers.

Unfortunately, the rain arrived too late to help the harvest.

Because of the long spell of hot, dry weather, the oil-seed rape and the corn (wheat and barley) ripened early.  The combine harvesters started working in the fields two weeks before the usual time and they are still busy in many areas of the country.  But the harvest is not great.  The yield – the amount of grain produced – is below normal,  which means the price of milling (flour) wheat will go up, as well as the price of barley for animal feed.

Farmers are used to occasional poor harvests.  But before the rain came last week, desperation was beginning to set in for a different reason.  Farmers everywhere in Britain were wondering how they were going to grow enough grass to make hay for animal feed during the winter.

Now they can breathe a little easier – at least for a short time.  The grass here in Yorkshire, as elsewhere, is just beginning to grow again.

But the rain we’ve had is not nearly enough.  The UK needs much more rain over the next two months, to make sure enough grass grows for cutting in September, or even October. If farmers can make enough hay or silage before the grass stops growing, the winter won’t be as grim as it’s looking now.

I know that isn’t what everyone wants this autumn.  Sorry folks  – we need it.

I’m off to do my rain dance …

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A visit to a small agricultural show – Tockwith, North Yorkshire

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Around the country at this time of year, there are many agricultural shows, large and small.  All of them have the same aim – highlighting the best that farming has to offer. Exhibitors young and old take great pride in presenting their animals and their produce in the best way possible.  Most of the visitors to agricultural shows are not farming folk, and for them it’s simply a great, interesting day out.

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Tockwith Show last weekend was no exception.  And of course, the hot sunshine helped enormously.

One of the stands belonged to Ken Horner, a local man who started making walking sticks and shepherds’ crooks when he retired 20 years ago.

In that time, he has donated over £50,000 to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and the MacMillan nursing service.  He’s still going strong.

 

Tockwith is a modest village and has only two documented claims to fame – the ‘petals’ of the amazing London 2012 Olympic cauldron were made here; and Oliver Cromwell stayed in the village on his way to the battle of Marston Moor.

To me, there is a third – its great annual agricultural show.

Farming flowers

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A new government scheme to help preserve habitats for birds and insects and to encourage the growth of rare species of wild flowers is being tested on farms in Wensleydale and Coverdale in North Yorkshire.

Natural meadows

The scheme, like similar ones before it, involves the farmer receiving a subsidy for leaving hay meadows unimproved – using no fertiliser or herbicides, and not mowing until the flowers have seeded. This not only helps to preserve many varieties of wild flowers, it also provides a natural habitat for many pollinating insects including bees.

But more flowers in the meadows means there is less grass, and therefore less winter feed for farm animals, which could threaten their survival. There are also strict regulations attached to the original scheme, such as limits on the number of animals that can be grazed and specific dates for mowing, which many farmers find it difficult to comply with.

 

Payments dependent on outcome

This pilot is different, however, because the farmers are paid by results and the regulations are less onerous.

Each farmer is given a scorecard on which to record the species of flowers he or she sees in the meadow. Some plants get a positive score, some a negative one. The more positive-scoring species and the fewer negative-scoring ones, the higher the payment received.

The scheme is also being piloted in three other areas of the UK.  So far, the nineteen Yorkshire farmers involved seem positive about it.

It will be interesting to see what happens.

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