22nd November 2019

Farm News

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This month’s rainfall figures are as follows – 117 mm (4.74 ins) of rain in September and 207.5 (8.4ins) in October. November has already produced 65 mm (2.64 ins) so the wet weather continues. This totals 389.5 mm (15.76ins) since 23rd September. The average rainfall is about 988 mm or 40 ins so you can see how wet it has been – nearly 40% of our annual rainfall in 6 weeks. Although wet here we are so much luckier than those further north with flooded homes, businesses and disruption to their lives. It will stop raining soon – I hope!

Very little planting has taken place of the autumn sown crops which will have consequences next year – any crops planted now will have lower yields than normal and this is already being reflected in forward grain prices which are beginning to rise quite markedly. The situation is similar in much of France so not just a UK scenario. We will continue to take advantage of any dry weather and plant wheat until the cut-off date in late January / early Feb. Winter sown wheats need a period of vernalisation (cold weather) to produce grain hence the cut-off date – if the plants do not receive the cold weather they will grow but not produce any grains – effectively just being a grass wheat crop. The few acres that we have planted are now emerging and look ok – slugs can be a real danger in thesewet damp conditions but safe so far. I hear that our position is mirrored by many locally on the heavier wetter soils in that we have only planted about 20% of our intended acreage and that involved getting the tractor and seed drill stuck twice.

The lack of growing crops will have an effect on local wildlife especially hares and deer because of a shortage of grazing without the planted cereal crops. The birds who catch aphids etc will also be hungry because if there are no crops there are no insects to graze them. Many fields are cultivated ready for the crops and obviously a soil colour whereas
normally at this time of year they would be a lovely bright green colour from the emerging crops. The local shoots which are feeding the pheasants at this time of year with wheat and game crops will be an invaluable source of food for these species. Please do help your garden bird numbers by putting out feed especially when the ground is frozen and also fresh water which is often forgotten.

I often refer to how most of our wild species are so dependent upon finding food especially in the winter time to survive. If food is available in the winter it can survive until the spring and then breed so helping the species success. I do wonder about the number of Red Kites that we see around the villages these days – a wonderful sight but they are all competing with each other for a limited number of small mammals such as voles and at what population level will a balance be found?

The neonic seed dressing story continues and to recap the EU has banned the use of this chemical that protects young crop seedlings from aphid and insect damage because some extreme laboratory tests found that bees could be adversely affected. The lab tests simulated applying dose rates of the neonics at many times the level that would be applied in the field and unsurprisingly the bees died. If almost any product was applied at such excessive dose rates the recipient would die so no surprise. No neonics are used these days and the bee keepers are increasingly worried because the oilseed crops that flowered in March and April were a fantastic source of early season pollen for the bees. The acreage of oilseed has shrunk dramatically and the bees are no longer getting the early season feed so the beekeepers are having to give supplementary feed to the hives but bee numbers are falling dramatically. There are many reasons why bee populations are crashing but a lack of feed is a major factor – no oilseed – no food – no survival for any species.

The African swine fever (ASF) affecting pig herds in Eastern Europe and China is getting more serious. The disease is 100% fatal to the pigs but does not affect humans. For many Chinese people pork is a major part of their diet and certainly the main meat that is eaten. The Chinese authorities now admit to a problem which probably indicates that it really is a serious issue. Pork meat is being bought in the West for the Chinese and consequently prices here are beginning to rise. The Chinese pig breeding herd is officially 20% lower compared with 12 months ago – they are losing their breeding stock which will have an impact for years to come. In 2018 the UK exported £77.5 million worth of pig products to China much of which is offal cuts – this will increase so long as we keep ASF from this country.

In the UK the meat is eaten but there are many parts of the carcase that are unused. The Chinese view pig trotters and ears as a delicacy and they sell for around £6 a kilo and 6 UK plants have now been approved to export these products to China.

Finally a return to electric cars. You may remember that I have previously suggested that electric powered cars are little different to internal combustion powered vehicles when a whole life scenario is viewed – batteries, generation and most importantly disposal. The generation of electricity is one huge issue which will require much more investment – about a 30% increase in generating capacity. However what is ignored is the transfer of electricity to where it is needed. The tendency in future will be for the electric vehicles to be charged in the evening and night time after daytime use. This will create a huge extra demand on our supply system because of the amount of energy that will need to be transferred – the current network only just copes with lighting, kettles etc. To service all of the electric vehicles for the UK Government’s target of “road to zero” by 2050 the UK needs to install 2000 charging points every single day until 2050 – at present 16 a day are being installed. A sum of £48 billion needs to be spent to upgrade the power supply cables to carry the electricity required for these vehicles – but by who and when?

But all is not lost – there is a possible solution in hydrogen powered cars whose only
emission is water. The vehicle hydrogen tanks can be filled at a filling station in a similar
way to petrol or diesel and takes about a minute. The hydrogen tank is heavily reinforced because of the pressure under which it is stored which is arguably safer than a petrol tank which is a thin steel container. The hydrogen is produced in factories but hydrogen is infinitely available from the atmosphere and is no more energy demanding than electricity generation. Vehicle driving range is similar to petrol or diesel and the performance only slightly less. The supply infrastructure – fuel stations – already exists and the only limitation are the number of hydrogen pumps currently available. The Korean and Japanese manufacturers are investing heavily in this technology with Toyota and especially Honda leading the way. Why has HM Government chosen electric propulsion when a nonpolluting technology is available that does not need a huge investment in the electricity distribution network of £48 billion?

Julian Lewis

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]

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