landlines

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live in a country with a predictable climate, where, for example, the start of the dry season or arrival of the monsoon could be forecast to the day.

Given the dramatic, sometimes tragic, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, snowfalls and storms throughout the world in recent years, whether or not we believe that climate change and global warming have played much of a part in those disasters, I realise that predictability is no longer what it used to be.

But there must be some countries where it still applies, where half a field can be left undrilled or uncut until next day because you know good weather will continue, rather than the inevitable fear that if you don’t flog on to finish that night, it might rain for a week.

Or where it is possible to plan lambing to coincide with a warm, dry, season rather than plan for a main lambing any time between early March and late May and still be taking a chance that weather will be dismally wet and cold.

Or where it is possible to look at the year ahead and know when a holiday can be fitted in without the risk of a vital farm operation overlapping.

But we don’t have that sort of climate, we have weather without a pattern that makes every year a roller-coaster of uncertainty. That is no doubt character-building and helps make most of us phlegmatic about the worst the weather can do, as we saw at the end of last year and the beginning of this one when farmers, their staff and the rural community in general coped with little fuss with heavy snow and severe frosts for weeks on end.

The downside is that when we get a long spell of settled good weather, as we have had during March and April and now into the early days of May, we worry that it won’t last, that we’ll pay for it later and that there are disadvantages.

It was the driest March for almost 60 years. Then one of the warmest Aprils for more than three centuries, with an average temperature of almost 12C, 4C above average, for central England, and not much lower for other areas, including the Borders.

But with rainfall, in millimetres, barely into double figures, April just past was also one of the 10 driest since reliable records of any kind began. On farms, sheep and shepherds have probably benefited most from that, with lambs and ewes doing well in the succession of warm, dry, days while shepherds have enjoyed good working conditions.

I was on a hill farm in the Cheviots last week and, for the first time I can remember in several visits over many years, was able to walk miles of it without getting my boots wet. More to the point the farmer reckoned the wettest parts of his land were the driest he had seen since the memorably dry summers of 1975 and 1976.

Farming being farming, however, as noted here many times to prove that we take life seriously, a long spell of dry weather in what should be the germinating and growing season is not so good for crops. Even at this early stage of the crop year we are getting forecasts of lower grain and soft fruit yields, along with warnings that growers should be wary of selling ahead too cheaply.

Unless, of course, the dry spell ends soon and we get some much-needed heavy rain to put crops back on track – and which then goes on and on to wipe out the beneficial effects by making harvesting a nightmare. Pessimists don’t need long memories to conjure up that idea. April 2007 was a wonderful month, followed by a wet and miserable summer. But optimists know, and meteorologists confirm, that there is nothing to link a warm, dry, April with a wet summer to follow. It ain’t necessarily so and that’s a relief.

Having said the dry spell can mean crop problems, it’s difficult to appreciate that in late spring when looking at the countryside in general with wheat crops in particular looking good. So do oilseed rape crops, of which there seem to be a lot, although it might be an optical illusion because of the way its striking yellow colour catches the eye.

Another dry note to end on: reports from statisticians that lamb sales in the first quarter of this year were down almost 25 per cent on the same quarter last year and in the four weeks ending March 20 were down almost 30 per cent on the same period in 2010.

The limited good news for farmers was that the price they received was up almost 14 per cent. But shopper resistance to higher prices – although meat processors and supermarkets insist they are not passing on the ex-farm increase to consumers – is worrying for the long term.