Time to grow your own food.

Spring, which has now officially turned into summer, is my favourite time of year. The dullness of winter, in terms of colour in the countryside, is replaced by a kaleidoscope of greens as the trees awake from their winter slumber. The wild flowers beneath the trees and along the field edges and roadside verges add to the mosaic. When things really get going, especially the crops that I care for you can almost hear them growing. In terms of our work load it goes off the scale and you have to run just to stand still. It seems that we are in a series of cold, dry Aprils which this year has extended into May, but is now replaced with some warm weather and yes rain. Thanks to BBC Radio Berkshire for asking me to talk about the ‘drought’ we finally got a few showers, not much but enough to help our thirsty crops. Exactly the same thing happened last year when I did a piece for Meridian News. The following day the rain started and we ended up with quite a wet May and June. I never want to whinge about the weather but it seems it’s good to talk.

On top of all that April is the end of the financial year, so reports to write, accounts to check and of course in May the deadline for submitting our claims for government support. Sadly, the latter is coming to an end right when we need it the most. Andrew Bailey, chairman of the Bank of England, recently described spiralling food prices as ‘apocalyptic’. I am not sure about his choice of word, but if you have ever thought about growing your own now might be the time to have a go. A perfect storm has arisen driven by Brexit, high energy prices, a world economy reeling from the effects of a pandemic, the war in Ukraine and woeful policy decisions by our current government. Whilst food prices are on the rise, it will get worse before we recover. As mentioned last month, farmers across the globe are struggling with high input costs and various weather events further depressing output. Then there is the terrible war in Ukraine reducing the amount of wheat and sunflower seed. The latter is turned into oil, which is used in all manner of foods and cooking. In the northern hemisphere harvest 2023 is the one that I believe we really need to be concerned about particularly in the UK. The cost of fuel and fertiliser and the rapid drop in government support will mean difficult decisions will need to be made about what and how much farmers grow next year. One of the key criteria for the EU regime of farm support which we were part of, was to help stabilise the supply and hence, in part, the cost of food. Current government thinking seems to be that we can do away with domestic production, use the land for greening and rewilding and import our food from wherever it’s cheapest, regardless of quality. All looks fine until there is a world shortage. A word to the wise; It might be worth getting a few hens if you are partial to eggs. Poultry producers, along with all livestock farmers, are struggling with the current high prices of feed, notably wheat, now sky rocketing on the back of world events.

The harvest of our combinable crops is starting to look closer now as our autumn sown crops start to sprout ears of grain. Barley is already out and the wheat will be out by the time you read this. Warm sunshine and gentle rain will help swell the grain, let’s hope it is a good harvest here in the UK and Europe this year. We will begin combining in July, so more on that next time. In the meanwhile, whilst we still can, UK farmers will as always do their best to get healthy, safe food to your tables whatever the weather throws at us. As for all the other challenges I am as much in the dark as the rest of you.

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