When I wrote a month ago, spring was already struggling to get going. For the duration of March, as with almost all parts of the UK, Cumbria endured cold easterlies and now one week in, April’s not looking much better. Apparently the jet stream is in the wrong place, again. Too low in the winter, too high in the summer.
The cows at Dolphenby have been grazing since late February and are now rapidly approaching their second round. Little or no re-growth through March has necessitated large amounts of both silage and concentrates being fed to maintain intake and output. Hopefully this is short term, as it rather detracts from our low-input philosophy.
Turnout for the milking herd at Cairnhead was three weeks later than anticipated on the last day of March (due to the weather) and although we can now offer daily a 20th of the total area and there is grass available to eat, it’s not particularly green. Unbelievably, exactly a year ago grass growth had bolted and we were even taking paddocks out of the grazing round for silage. Being resilient, of course, is just part of the deal when it comes to farming, but the last thing any one wanted was a late spring to follow the appalling challenges of the 2012 summer. I hear from friends in New Zealand that the devastating drought seems to be stubbornly hanging on, necessitating a much shorter grazing and production season. Farming currently faces huge challenges, but key to the future is how we overcome the climate change knife-edge on which global food production is precariously placed.
Robert Craig farms a 160ha all-grass dairy unit in north-east Cumbria. A passionate grassland farmer, Robert aims to maximise profit while ensuring a balanced and enjoyable life. Robert is also current Cumbria NFU chairman