Interesting Times

By Peter Lundgren, The Farmer

It’s the time of year when I’m supposed to be making tentative plans for looking after the growing crops from now until harvest.

Trouble is when you are dealing with nature the best laid plans are often overtaken by events. And this year feels like one of those years when everything and anything could happen – and probably will.

The temperature is well above normal for this time of year – the average December temperature was 4 degrees C above normal – and what effect that will have on the growing wheat plants is going to be interesting.

Normally the winter sown crops stop growing during the winter – above ground at least – but with this mild weather they seem to have kept on growing. Will that bring forward the harvest date? I don’t know. If we are lucky a longer growing season will help the crop deliver a bigger yield but I’m not brave enough to bet on that.

And the mild weather will have allowed crop pests and diseases to survive in greater quantities than normal threatening the health of the field of wheat. Hopefully the mild weather will have also helped beneficial insects survive in greater quantities to deal with the threat.

Snow drops are out already. Daffodils are also in flower, which is more surprising because they don’t normally appear until Mother’s Day. This week I’ve noticed leaves emerging on some hedge plants; clouds of mosquitos and midges in mating balls; bees, flies and ladybirds around the farmyard; even the fish seem very lively in the pond (but that might be just the attentions of a kingfisher making sporadic feeding visits). In a normal year (if there is such a thing any more) I wouldn’t expect to see any of this for another month.

If the weather stays this warm we are going to have an interesting and challenging time trying to look after the growing field of wheat and protect it from pests and diseases between now and harvest.

We are living in interesting times.

Please feel free to read through questions and responses from the Field of Wheat collective members and the Farmer.

Carol Farrow

Peter Just wanting to say how much I'm enjoying being part of 'a field of wheat'. It will indeed be interesting to see how the mild weather effects the wheat field soil and the crop and how you/we manage that. I'm looking forward to the journey. With the EU Referendum uppermost in the press and some of our minds, I'm wondering what you (and the farming community generally) think about the advantages and disadvantages of staying in the EU or removing ourselves. I know that the price of wheat and other farmed commodities are governed by a worldwide market but presumably being in the EU effects farming substantially with it's own internal market and subsidies etc. Whilst generally a Europhile, I have worries about the future of UK farming and wonder how farmers themselves view the current debate.

2016-02-27 07:40:35

Peter Lundgren, The Farmer

Hi Carol I've been trying to duck the Brexit question and what it means for farming! But as you ask, and at the risk of being seen as a whinging farmer, here goes. Looking at the bigger picture I think that the whole question of leaving Europe is a lot bigger than the self-interest of a few farmers; although its not bigger than the wider implications for our environment and rural economy. Certainly the last 20 or 30 years has not been good for UK farming and the rural economy. We've seen the value of our produce tumble in real terms; we've seen profitability tumble; we've seen productivity stagnate; we've seen rural employment rates crash; and we've seen the loss of village shops, pubs, schools and services. Perversely we have also seen land prices and land rental values increase dramatically making it impossible for new entrants and young people to break into farming. But the question has to be is that the fault of Europe or would things be even worse if we hadn't been part of Europe? I've heard some farming leaders saying that leaving Europe will be a disaster for UK farming but I don't really understand if they are referring to the loss of EU markets or the loss of EU subsidy. Others (including a surprising number of ex DEFRA ministers) saying that leaving Europe will benefit UK farming but are they naïve to think that the UK government is willing to support UK farming once we are out of Europe? One common issue farmers blame on Europe is the onerous level of form filling and red tape that is now part of farming life. But is that really the fault of Europe or is it in part the fault of our own government (and even our own unions) for 'gold plating' every regulation and directive? For me neither the in or out options look particularly enticing at the moment so I guess we have to look at what the future holds. If we stay in Europe we remain part of a large trading group and European law counters some of the daft legislation coming from individual EU governments; but we have to put up with onerous form filling; political inertia; and the further damage to the profitability of farming along with damage to our rural economy. If we leave Europe I think its inevitable that this country will be forced into a trade agreement with the USA . Proposals for the Trans Atlantic TTIP trade agreement are already on the table and whilst these proposals might be good for trade, these proposals also include a worrying loss of sovereignty and an erosion of the laws that protect our environment and ourselves from the self-interest of multi national big business. I can't help thinking that out of Europe means the licensing of GM crops; the loss of the precautionary principle that protects the environment and is currently being used to protect our bees from neonicotinoids; an erosion of our animal welfare legislation; and the further loss of our civil liberties. I suspect that, like the vast majority of the voting population, I wont make up my mind until I'm in the polling booth but at this time I'm inclined to stay with the devil I know.

2016-03-26 12:51:37