Landlines: Three cheers for spring weather

Farmers, like this one at work near Roxburgh, are enjoying a better spring than last year. Picture by Staurt Cobley
Farmers, like this one at work near Roxburgh, are enjoying a better spring than last year. Picture by Staurt Cobley
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March last year was not only the second coldest on record, we also had snow and heavy rain.

This year we’ve had an annoying blustery wind, occasionally reaching gale force, almost every day, but very little rain and a lot of sunshine.

13/03/14, TSPL, Scotsman, magazine, Feature  on BBC outdoor programme Lambing Live which is to be shown at the end of the month. The programme with presenter Kate Humble focuses on the Dykes family on their farm, South Slipperfield outside West Linton.  The first lamb born on the farm. Pic Ian Rutherford

13/03/14, TSPL, Scotsman, magazine, Feature on BBC outdoor programme Lambing Live which is to be shown at the end of the month. The programme with presenter Kate Humble focuses on the Dykes family on their farm, South Slipperfield outside West Linton. The first lamb born on the farm. Pic Ian Rutherford

So three cheers for a better spring so far than last year, especially from farmers in our area who have cracked on with all fieldwork such 
as drilling spring crops, 
fertilising and spraying.

A cheer too from those busy lambing, because almost anything is preferable to wet weather when ewes and lambs are turned out of sheds into open fields.

Autumn-sown crops of wheat, barley and oilseed are probably looking as well as I’ve seen them in any March. So it’s so far, so good.

Even in the best of times, spare a thought for those in difficulty. Such as the Somerset farmers whose land has yet to recover from flooding, not forgetting the rain that fell on farms in the west of Scotland at about the same time.

At the other extreme is the three-year drought in southern California – America’s salad bowl – that threatens to wipe out crop production as water supplies piped from northern California have dried up. Production from some of the best farmland on earth is worth £35 billion a year to California.

Predictions by gloomier farmers that parts of the state could become a dustbowl are frightening the US government. It puts a March wind whistling through the Borders into perspective.

When the crunch comes you can’t trust anyone. Certainly not our big retailers.

After being complimentary several times in recent years about Morrisons backing British meat – “One hundred per cent British in our stores” – they’re now selling New Zealand lamb.

One reason is that last year’s lambs now being sold off British farms are about a year old and that younger New Zealand lambs coming in vacuum-packed are more tender. Morrisons says it will go back to 100 per cent British at the beginning of June with the first of this year’s British lamb crop.

But the main reason, I suspect, is that Morrisons, like several other big retailers, is losing trade and profit to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl. The only way to try to regain trade is to buy cheap anywhere in the world and sell at lower prices.

That is bad news for any supermarket supplier, because we all know where the squeeze comes when shelf prices are reduced, don’t we?

The shocking death of Jim Sharp, Newbigging Walls, Lauder, in a farm accident last week must have sent a flicker of fear through anyone who has worked alone in a grain store beside grain augers churning and chattering away remorselessly.

He had been an integral part of Borders farming, particularly the livestock sector, for so long that it’s hard to believe he was only 66.

My deepest sympathy to his family.