Spell of sunshine has allowed Scottish farmers to make hay

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The spectacular spell of hot weather through much of the second half of this month saw more winter barley fields cut and baled than usual. If the weather remains as hot as mid-term forecasts suggest that early-start pattern could be repeated for most other crops such as oilseed rape, spring barley and winter wheat. Ideal harvesting conditions, low moisture contents and good quality might go some way to compensating for disappointing prices.

Most silage crops also benefited from good weather, heavy yielding and good feeding quality, and it seemed to me on a late July whistlestop trip that took in much of Scotland’s west coast as well as right down the east from Aberdeen to the Borders that a lot of hay has been made this year. Has there been a resurgence in haymaking, a crop that I thought might have suffered its death knell during the horrible summer of 2012? Or have some farmers taken advantage of good grass growth to close off surplus grazing and take an opportunistic cash crop?

It is, unfortunately, still possible to make bad hay in a good year, often through no fault of your own. Cutting a little too early or a little too late, being caught by heavy showers at just the wrong time for two or three days in a row, deciding to leave it for one more day or, as bad, baling too quickly and watching it suffer from overheating can all take the edge off the job and reduce feed quality. There are few crops more satisfying than really good hay, few more frustrating than the brown and mouldy weathered stuff.

The crofter I saw at work on the Applecross peninsula last week probably came somewhere in between. He had a reasonably heavy crop of hay, but it looked a touch weathered to be called good.

And although I can just recall, as a lad, seeing loose hay being brought in by hay rake and sweeps, I had never before seen someone forking loose hay out of the swathe into a trailer. I fought the urge to stop and give him a hand and contented myself with mentally wishing him luck and pondering how long he’d be slogging away in that five or six-acre field.

After years of steady decline and fairly recent demands from farmers for better milk prices if the dairy industry wasn’t to collapse completely, I see that the number of dairy farmers in the UK has increased by 200 year on year.

That includes an increase in Scotland to take the number above 1,000 again and the number of dairy cows has increased by 5,200 to its highest level since 1997. Most of those starting are doing so in a big way, most of those who stuck with years of volatile prices continue to increase herd size. It seems that like every other sector of farming those who are good at what they do can make a profit.

Or, as one of the milk specialists put it, “there are opportunities for a dynamic, progressive and responsible dairy sector” that can challenge milk processors to add value to dairy product sales in a volatile world market.