I heard a song by Flanders & Swann – big names on the London revue scene in the 1950s and 1960s – on the radio the other day. It was about the British weather, going through the months with the implication that it rained most of the time, concluding with “December brings both snow and rain – then it’s bloody January again.”
The song still strikes chords. For complete topicality, make that February again too because at time of writing we’ve had a miserable week of cold, dull, raw weather and the forecast is more of the same.
Most crops aren’t looking too bad, with the exception of some direct-drilled wheat, but there’s a lot of water lying and underfoot and underwheel conditions are soggy. Luckily, not long to wait now for drying winds and a peck or two of March dust; yes, written more in hope than anticipation.
March will also bring the spring-forward one hour time change. Debate about this is now going on with enthusiasts pushing for adding two hours to Greenwich Mean Time in March.
They claim that that extra hour of daylight in spring and summer would be worth 80,000 jobs and £3.5 billion for the tourist industry. As I seem to remember mentioning before, those figures sound suspiciously like something from the late Keith Waterhouse’s fictional Department of Guesswork, as does the claim that a change would reduce the number of road deaths by 80 per year.
We are at present on Greenwich Mean Time. On the last Saturday in March, we will put our clocks forward one hour to GMT+1. What is being suggested and debated is that Britain should move to GMT+1 during the winter months and to GMT+2 for summer months.
Opposition increases the further north we get from London because in deep winter, daybreak would not reach our area until 9am or later and, in the north of Scotland, not until after 10am.
Farmers and the construction industry are always cited as opponents of such a change and that will probably remain true. My own theory is that much farm work in winter is done by electric light or tractor lights anyway and for much of summer and autumn farmers and contractors now try to get as near 24 hours a day working as possible so GMT, GMT+1 or GMT+2 would not make much difference. But I could be in a minority. That has been known.
A human trait difficult to avoid is to base decisions affecting our future on present conditions. Sentiment outweighs logic and we made ourselves believe, for example, that house and land prices would keep rising for ever. We also tend to believe that current market prices for livestock are a true guide to next year’s prospects.
Usually, as in the case of land and house buying, the tendency is to be too optimistic. At this spring’s bull sales, however, so far buyers seem pessimistic. At Stirling a fortnight ago, the average price for Aberdeen Angus bulls was down more than £370 on the year at £4,676. Limousins fared worse when 82 bulls averaged £3,757 compared with an average of £4,376 for 68 the previous year.
At Carlisle last week, 113 Limousin bulls averaged £5,027 compared with £6,044 for 176 last year.
All this shows that more or less static beef prices and rising costs of feed, fertilizer and fuel have persuaded beef farmers that next year’s returns won’t be any better.
One breed still has its optimists – 36 beef shorthorn bulls averaged £4,637, compared with £4,560 for 39 in spring 2010. As with Herefords, I’ve always had a soft spot for beef shorthorns, both once much more common than they are now, but both making something of a comeback. It will be interesting to see what happens to Charolais and Simmental bull prices at Stirling this week.
Whatever the prospects for beef production, 2011 should be another satisfactory year for sheep farmers, according to Stuart Ashworth of Quality Meat Scotland. Why? Because much might change in economic theory and jargon over the years, but the ancient law of supply and demand for food keeps rearing its head and lamb production continues to decline throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Result? Lower production plus steady, even slightly increasing, demand equals higher ex-farm prices. Good news indeed.