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Country Smallholding - - Contents -

Sto­ries for small­hold­ers

THE long run of un­in­ter­rupted sun­shine and dry days that has char­ac­terised the sum­mer of 2018 is al­ready im­pact­ing on small­hold­ers and their live­stock and crops. Many are re­port­ing wa­ter issues, low yields, a lack of graz­ing for their an­i­mals, lit­tle like­li­hood of a sec­ond cut af­ter a bumper June/July hay har­vest, as well as un­com­fort­able an­i­mals.

“My nor­mally lush fields are now brown wisps of hay and my ewes have had a bad deal this sum­mer,” said Som­er­set small­holder Melinda Baker, who owns a flock of Black Welsh Moun­tain sheep. “Lambs are com­pet­ing with their moth­ers for any green grass and they are graz­ing the fields hard while still mak­ing de­mands on their moth­ers’ milk sup­ply. Wa­ter troughs empty daily and the im­por­tance of a large tree or a good hedge for shade has never been more vi­tal.”

Melinda is now won­der­ing whether the con­di­tions will im­pact on her lambs’ growth at wean­ing, she ques­tions what the over­all fi­nan­cial im­pact will be for farm­ers and small­hold­ers and adds: “And will our fields be able to re­cover in time for win­ter graz­ing?”

An­drew O’Shea, a Lin­colnshire small­holder who farms rare breed pigs and sheep, is ex­pect­ing a larger than usual wa­ter bill. He has spent ex­tra hours pump­ing wa­ter into his pigs’ wal­lows and fill­ing troughs be­cause his an­i­mals are drink­ing more than usual.

“I’m not a large scale farmer with ma­chin­ery to do this, so I’m work­ing with buck­ets and a hose,” he said. “My pigs have also been re­ally lethar­gic and my sheep aren’t happy either, plus I’m hav­ing to feed them straights. I’ve been a small­holder for eight years and I’ve never faced a more chal­leng­ing sum­mer. The only pos­i­tive is that I’ve got 600 small bales of hay in the barn, but, on the down­side, I don’t think there’s much chance of a sec­ond cut be­cause the field still hasn’t re­cov­ered.”

Har­riet Mullins grows flow­ers com­mer­cially on her North Devon small­hold­ing and she has been spend­ing four hours a day wa­ter­ing her plants.

“We are luck­ier than some flower grow­ers as we do have wa­ter on site. How­ever, the plants are about a month be­hind and they are not flow­er­ing as much as they would be with reg­u­lar rain. The sun­flow­ers and zin­nias are lov­ing it, but I have strug­gled to keep the flow­ers fresh when I de­liver bunches.”

Ali­cia Miller and her hus­band, Nathan Richards, run a hor­ti­cul­ture busi­ness and a small herd of High­land cows at Troed y Rhiw, a 23-acre or­ganic farm si­t­u­ated in Ceredigion’s coastal belt. In the 10 years that the cou­ple has been farm­ing, they have both seen what they be­lieve to be climate change and have con­cluded that sum­mers like 2018’s could be­come a fea­ture of the fu­ture. “We’ve cer­tainly seen more weather ex­tremes more fre­quently over the last five years,” said Ali­cia. “While the sun­shine has been good for the soul — I’m from Cal­i­for­nia, so rainy sum­mers are hard — as it goes on for longer the stress is setting in. Nathan spends most of his days and a good por­tion of his evenings mov­ing wa­ter around and try­ing to keep plants alive. We’re los­ing crops. This has been a wake-up call — we need more re­silience in our wa­ter us­age, con­serv­ing wa­ter in wet pe­ri­ods so that when it’s dry we are bet­ter pre­pared.”

SHEEP own­ers are be­ing warned that their flocks could be at a high risk of blowfly strike this sum­mer due to the warm con­di­tions and the presence of the par­a­site ne­ma­todirus. Vets are urg­ing farm­ers to re­main vig­i­lant and to con­sider pre­ven­ta­tive treat­ments.

Usu­ally lush fields are be­ing scorched this sum­mer

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