Farmer Focus: Sticking with niche crops after Brexit

March has hit us, as they say, like a lion, whether it will leave us like a lamb remains to be seen.

We experienced an unusual February with frost by night and a coat required in the morning to shirt sleeves by lunch time.

Whether or not it was a “fool’s spring” remains to be seen.

See also: How a Dorset farmer grows cost-effective cover crops

I did take the plunge and start planting potatoes – our earliest start for fifteen years. Soil conditions seemed good and, combined with cold store stocks running around just about enough to see us through, I didn’t want to take any chances with an otherwise late spring.

We might pay the price with a late frost, but the opportunity looked too good to miss.

Our main focus lately has been daffodil flower picking. Our bunch counts a hectare have been running below our average.

I am not sure why, but I strongly suspect that the hot, dry summer of 2018 played a large part.

Our migrant labour workforce turned up on time and in the numbers anticipated, so that has helped.

Niche opportunities

It will be a very short picking season this year, probably one of the shortest in recent times, as the unusual weather has led to the varieties galloping through their growth stages.

Thanks to the early start, the two usual big selling opportunities – Mothering Sunday and Easter – will miss the bulk of the crop as they are so late in the year this time around.

Talking to growers around the country, the picture seems the same nationally, so I would think there will be a good trade for anyone with a late-flowering variety or two if they hang on long enough.

The daffodil enterprise has featured a lot in my deliberations about our farming strategy generally, as well as after Brexit.

It is capital-intensive and requires commitment for 10 months of the year, but it is a useful niche crop which grows well in Cornwall.

The demand, particularly for the flowers, seems to be growing. Provided I can weather the labour issue to harvest the crop, it is set to continue as part of our farming mix.

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