Well, there’s just no getting away from the fact that we are dry. Not just a little bit, but totally, seriously, worryingly parched. The first four months of 2019 have brought us exactly 80.0mm of precipitation, which is around half of what we would normally expect. Unfortunately this comes after a very dry second half of 2018 as well, so levels of water in both rivers and subsoils were already depleted. We have a patch of grass at our grainstore that is on a shallow piece of soil, which is an early warning sign when a drought is beginning to kick in. Ordinarily it would be green up until June or July; this year it was already dying off in the second half of April. Of course, other parts of the country have been doing just fine, proving that on this occasion the grass literally is greener elsewhere.
This is particularly a problem for our spring planted crops, as they have not had the time to get a nice big root system which can gather water effectively. At least the weather warmed up a bit and stopped frosting every night; but all in all, it has been a tough start to their lives. I feel particularly lucky that we have stopped growing sugar beet, as some neighbouring farms are struggling to get any germination at all.
The rest of the farm, all planted last year, ranges from excellent (one particular field of oilseed rape) through average, and down to poor in places (some late drilled wheat after spring barley). There is an increasing divide showing up between our lighter land, where the wheats have gone into suspended animation due to lack of water, compared to our heavier land, which is still managing to hang on. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to go for a drive and see farmers irrigating their wheat, which for April in the UK is an amazing sight.
Another thing you may see on that drive is many bare, or very patchy, fields of oilseed rape. This will probably be due to a combination of slugs, flea beetle, and pigeons. We’ve found ourselves in a strange situation for the last couple of weeks, because the government department which issues licenses for shooting animals lost a court case on the technicalities of how those licenses worked. What that meant is with very short notice – only a few days – it suddenly became illegal to shoot common pests, like pigeons or rooks. This has lead to a massive fight between farmers and the anti-shooting brigade, both of whom accuse the others of being totally unreasonable and generally horrible people. As with most of these situations, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle – and in a few weeks it will have been sorted out, and everyone will forget about it, until next time.