Farm Diary March 18 2009

THIS is more like it! Spring is back, the chickens have started laying and all the daffodils suddenly blossomed last week. The birds are making such a racket in the early morning, but over at Tillington, the crows are driving Gwenan mad with their noise and activity. The grass is on the move, the ground is drying up and I am gearing up for a very busy time indeed; for all concerned.

If we keep one tractor full time on sub-soiling, ploughing and cultivations, we will only just get all the maize ground ready in time for the earliest possible drilling date, which is my objective. We will of course have two tractors when it is possible, but there is fertilizer to spread, muck to haul and dirty water to spread.

We have teams of men injecting sludge and spreading dried sludge-cake on our maize ground where we have no farm yard manure available. We are also hauling 'green' compost from a recycling operation in Basingstoke over to Ripley, as the access to our maize ground there is not suitable for the sludge injecting gang, and the land is surrounded by houses.

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I hope that this compost will add some much needed organic matter as well as nutrients to the soil. I went for this option rather than growing the maize with chemical fertilizer, although it's no cheaper, and the paperwork and red tape with the Environment Agency has to be seen to be believed.

On the farm, the 'anaerobic digester' is coming on well, and the second concrete tower will be finished by the time you read this, and the Yorkshire lads will be on their way to the next job. The German engineers are on site, they have started lagging the first tank and we are filling in around it with soil, burying that expensive 'sacrificial' concrete road around it as we go.

We have started preparing the concrete bases for the transformer (an enormous oil filled device) and the 'switch' which sits on a separate plinth next to the transformer. These jobs are our responsibility, and James Covey, who will be feeding and running the digester once it's finished, is very busy indeed. James is a skilled builder and engineer, but now he being asked to be innovative, imaginative, creative, and miracle worker too!

The cows are very relaxed through all this, picking up on building slang, meeting various people, and generally amused that without them all this will not work. They walk around with that air of confidence these days, almost as if milk production is going to be an added bonus in the future. We have had some pneumonia in the cows, and although we have cured several, we did lose one cow.

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I have never had pneumonia in adult cows at Crouchlands before, and I don't quite know what has caused it this winter. We have had a caesarian section carried out successfully, but lost a young cow with 'listeria', which was more than likely caused by the fact that she was changing teeth, allowing the bacteria to enter. The young heifers at Tillington are really growing very fast now and are out grazing, but running back in for feed and shelter.

The cows will not be going out early this spring, as the usual route is bang in the middle of the building site! I will cut more acres for silage if the grass gets away, but I do hope to get some of them out when conditions allow. We also have two towers to fill with slurry, and we should have started this process by now.

Not having enough muck and slurry is not a problem we normally have (!), but it might just be the case this spring. We are told that we only need to part fill the first tower in order to get things going, and that filling has to be very gradual, because otherwise it takes huge amounts of energy to heat it up to temperature. Once we have methane, we can start the engine, which will then heat the tower, but initially it will have to be heated with an outside power unit at vast expense.

Will government never learn? Do politicians really believe that they can cure obesity with fat tax? Do they really believe that the Scots will be denied cheap alcohol? Do they really believe that tax on alcohol will make any difference? Against the might of the free-market, they have no chance.

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The Scots will cruise across to the border, just as Irish shoppers now travel to Northern Ireland following the VAT cut. The retailers will continue to compete, indeed 'Bargain Booze' company have opened 60 stores in the last year (95 in the past 18 months), with another 60 planned for the coming year.

This recession is their marketplace, and retailers will not stand idly by. Meanwhile 'Smirnoff' goes 'green' (apples actually), Independent brewery 'The Rushing Dolls Company' launch a beer specifically for girls, 'Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer' hits the shelves and so on.

Meanwhile, the 'Food standard Agency' plods on, moving seamlessly from salt to saturated fats and the next target is sugar. Arbitrary targets with 'conform or else' attitude to industry is typical of a quango, who's remit is open to abuse.

Jane Kennedy (minister for Farming) recently criticized the FSA, quite rightly for destroying taste, and for not allowing common sense to prevail. If some people eat too much food, will this legislation make any difference? Why then, should we all suffer? This is evangelical nannyism of the worst sort, and has no place in our democratic society. I take three (at least) sugars in my coffee; there are people who would see me shot for that!