As I see it on the land – April 2023

As I See it on the Land

Writing well ahead of the delivery time of the magazine can be tricky. A dry February looked as if it was going to enable spring work to surge ahead. But no, whilst some beans were direct drilled locally on the marsh and some of the lighter land on the hills above the marsh planted with spring cereals, the weather brought a rapid halt to activity. We are now enduring one of the wettest March’s and our drilling will get pushed back into April.

In February we started an experiment by having a neighbours sheep come in to graze some of our winter wheat which was growing strongly. An electric fence was erected across part of each of the four fields selected to contain the animals. It was going well until the rain came and the sheep had to come off before too much damage was done by feet stodging up the ground and harming the wheat. The intention was to graze the excessive growth at top of the plant to see if disease was reduced. Careful monitoring when combining will discover whether yield has been compromised on the grazed areas.

The price of lambs being sold in the market since Xmas has dropped by an average of £20 per head below last year’s price. Cattle are making ever record prices with the demand for mince. Pigs are still below the cost of production but improving slightly. I cannot understand why the compound feed prices are still so high when the price per tonne for animal feed wheat is now lower than pre the Ukraine war. It peaked at nearly £360 tonne in May 2022 and is now trading around £215 per tonne.

About 70% of our lamb production is sold in supermarkets. However, sales are down 17% on pre covid times. It is perceived as expensive compared to pork and chicken.

Since writing last month some shelves have been bare in the supermarkets, which brings me onto the subject of eggs. Following a visit to KIMs hospital in Maidstone, we decided to go to Marks and Spencer in the nearby estate to try to buy a pair of trousers. I am no shopper, but the size of the place was an eye opener. No trousers for me, I’m too fat!! They have to be purchased on line. I said whilst we are here, we will look in the food hall. Wow. The prices!!  Eggs were an astonishing 85.3 pence each for a medium brown (supposedly free range) egg. Who pays that?

The NFU say that there were a billion eggs less laid in the UK last year because growers cut back on the number of hens kept, due to the supermarkets being unwilling to cover the increased cost of production. Bird Flu continues to be a problem with about 164 outbreaks in the UK. The nearest cases are in Essex and one in Sussex. DEFRA are looking into the possibility that every chicken in the land has to be registered, even if you only have a single pet in the garden. It will provide a few jobs for the boys! At the moment anyone with 50 + has to be recorded.

This week I had a man arrive in the yard representing a firm cutting trees for UK Power Networks requesting access to my field near the canal bridge. He said all branches within 4 metres of the line had to be trimmed. OK. Where is the paperwork I ask? None, he says. It is all done electronically. Sign this pad with your finger!

I said I would look at the trees the following day, because I thought there was little to give any concern. When are you intending to do the work? Wednesday, he replied.   I said I would be in the village in the morning, but I had a funeral to attend in the pm.

We looked at the trees on Tuesday and there were a few tiny branches/twigs within 4 metres of the electricity wires. Wednesday morning a phone call from the said gentleman got me out of bed. I said I could find little that needed cutting. He insisted there was a dead tree. I thought I must have missed one. I would see the workers later. They had not arrived by midday. They were not there at 1.30 p.m. They were there at 3.15 p.m. after the funeral and they had nearly finished cutting down a tree I had transplanted from my garden some 20 years ago. It had dead ivy on it which I had cut last year to prevent it choking the tree. I went ballistic. Just a misunderstanding they said!  Incompetence. I told them to leave what remained and I hoped it would shoot out again.

I will need more thorough details in future before granting access for tree cutting.

The snowdrops have just finished and the primroses are a riot of yellow, whilst some of the daffodils have had a bit of a knocking in the wind. The later ones are surviving.

Peter Sillibourne