Farmer Focus: Don’t forget we all need food to survive

“Interesting”, is certainly the best description of this spring, where winter continued until the end of April.

Although you could see everything desperately trying to get going, nothing really grew, as the cold nights and biting north wind held everything back. 

Then warmer nights, a nice few millimetres of rain, a new moon – and spring arrived with a bang.

See also: Crop Watch: Assessing impact of April drought and frosts

Cereals shot through their growth stages, and everything seemed to catch up quickly. The barley was in ear and the sprayer was working hard to catch up.

Despite the very dry April, ground water levels are still extremely high here, where we have over a hectare of river meadow still under water and plenty of winter ponds are full.

This is highly unusual and no doubt a reflection of last autumn’s relentless rains. But it stands us in good stead, ensuring there is plenty of water about for irrigation later in the year. 

Now that it is cropping and budget time again, the challenge, as always, is to assess the potential of the crops and to estimate just how much to risk forward selling.

We need to determine how well cereals have wintered, but more importantly to remember what proportion of crops are on exceptionally light land. 

A simple spreadsheet can assist with introducing many variables, including the yield potential of individual fields and the likely soil moisture deficit between now and harvest.

However, a poor medium-term weather forecast can drive holes through the best predictions, again demonstrating the risks associated with growing annual crops. 

So why not consider other, non-annual crops or other markets as the way forward? If backed off with a long-term contract, they could certainly take some of the volatility out of budgeting, especially if they are linked to the consumer or retail price index. 

You only need to have viewed the pages of this magazine recently to discover some of the potential new opportunities for land use, whether it be to satisfy the newly fledged carbon sequestration market, to join the emerging public money for public goods’ frenzy, or simply to take a grant to plant all of those trees that we apparently require. 

We will certainly be looking at all of the options in next year’s cropping plans, but don’t forget we still need food to live!     

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