farmers

A remarkably sunny, dry and calm autumn has come to an abrupt end as a stream of depressions sweep in from the Atlantic, each dumping an inch or more of rain on our fields. The fields happily soaked up the first few inches, but this week become water logged. With the first run-off of the winter comes the danger of soil loss. We have two strategies to cope with this. The first is to ensure that most (over 95%) of our fields are covered with a crop, a green manure or, failing that, a good covering of weed. Second, we try to keep the soil structure open, allowing water to soak in rather than run off, mainly by a staying off the ground when it is wet.

The last of the carrots and beetroot were safely in store and our autumn plantings of beans, garlic and onions completed before the weather broke, so we are feeling just a little smug. Cauliflower, leeks and cabbages continue to be harvested by hand whatever the weather, while parsnips have to wait for dry spells. Leafy vegetables hate the autumn gales even more than the frost so I suspect that this week will see the last of our spinach and chard until the spring. Finding the good leaves amongst the bad in the mud, rain and wind is too frustrating for cold fingers.

The papers have been full of stories of rocketing food prices. On the whole grain farmers have benefited, but livestock farmers suffered. Although dairy farmers have finally seen some substantial rises in the milk price, poultry and pig farmers are in real trouble. Their animals, lacking a rumen to digest grass, depend on grain, which has doubled in price.

Vegetables are no exception, but we have been able to keep our January prices rises to around 5%. Part of this goes to rising rents (doubled in 12 months), land, labour and fuel prices. Part of it is down to growers quite reasonably wanting to benefit from a much stronger market after what has, for most, been the worst growing year in memory. Compared to the 23% fruit and veg inflation reported in last week