The Elston Farm Spring

Elston Farm - The Meat Box Company

Rain at last! You would never think any sane person (or insane one for that matter) would say such a thing this year. However, for farmers trying to grow grass to feed our cattle and deer, this has been the worst winter followed by the worst spring, ever. Three months of continuous rain stopped the grass growing and then cold easterly winds stripped the moistier from our soils before the grass realised it should grow. To produce our fabulous west country meats we need warmth, rain (preferably light rain) and sunshine, to finish the recipe, soil, grass and our livestock do the rest.

Our maritime climate is generally perfect for meat production but over the last few months it has been through a major wobble. Today’s rain is manna from heaven, you can almost hear the grass growing, or you would be able to if the birds were not singing so loudly. I am not sure if we are just more aware of the birds in this peculiar year, or if the ambient noise of traffic, even in our quiet part of Devon, is reduced to such an extent but as I write this the sound of bird song is astonishing. Aspects of how we farm certainly encourages them.

We have been in stewardship schemes for 15 years, this has allowed our hedges to grow up, the margins to become scruffy and soften the field edges. Perfect nesting habitat for ground and shrub nesting birds, full of seeds and insects for them to eat. We have left land fallow to encourage the rarer annual arable plants to grow and planted seed producing strips for winter bird feed.

Back to the rain, but this time arable crops. We practice rotational farming and part of that rotation is winter wheat. Well it was supposed to be, but this year it won’t be. We placed our seed wheat in the ground last autumn in less than ideal conditions. It did start to grow; it poked its green shoots through the ground. Then the rain came, and it didn’t go away for the whole winter. It stopped growing, the rabbits ate quite a lot and then in February the constant cold wind and anaerobic soil just finished the assassination of the entire crop. We ripped it up and started again. Spring barley is our replacement, drilled as the sodden ground was dried by cold winds to uncompromising parched concrete. The green shoots poked their noses through nonetheless and as we were beginning to think they would wither due to the dry conditions the rain arrived at last to save the crop.

Farmers famously grumble, there has been a lot to grumble about this winter. Light rain and warm sunshine, that makes us happy, let’s have some more of that please.