Baling out the industry

THERE WILL have been more bales of hay made in Scotland this summer than most of us will be able to remember – unfortunately for those facing a long winter, quite a lot of them will be small bales.

Old Massey Ferguson 130s, Claas Markants and New Holland Hayliners (I even saw one old International B45 bumping its way up a field), have been dusted down, greased up and put to service making the most of this dry spell. I hope everyone enjoyed the nostalgia of fixing knotters!

However, unless there has been some kind of magic at work, then the hay they baled will disappear a lot faster than the snow didn't off the dykes this March.

Already, dairy cows are munching their way through the vitality of first cut silage – with little regrowth of second cut on the way – and we could face the prospect of whole herds of spring-calving dairy cows being pensioned off in the back-end to conserve what little fodder there is.

At the risk of being branded pessimistic, there is a message here for dairy processors – pay more, or risk having no product. For that is the prospect ahead.

The same goes for fruit and veg growers, many of whom have good crops that will never be harvested due to a lack of the migrant labour that is required to pick it. We know there are already soft fruit and vegetable crops that will go unharvested because of this. What's frustrating about that is that a lot of time, energy and money has already gone into producing what should be a valuable crop – not only for the farmer, but his buyer as well – only to watch it rot for a lack of labour units to garner it.

While it's too early yet to cry 'wolf' with regard to cereal, oilseed and potato crops, there are certainly fields under stress and should the drought continue, then the prospect of harvesting 'budgie seed' becomes more of a reality.

The one crop that seems to handle stress well – rye – is waving in the wind, like some two-fingered salute to the livestock industry as it is almost certainly destined for pits to feed anaerobic digester power plants throughout the winter.

Would it not be possible to cut, bale and wrap at least the end-rigs of these 'energy' crop fields for the benefit of those who will sorely need them in the months ahead. Similarly, beet crops destined to be chopped into feedstock for the digesters would make an ideal winter feed and so could not a proportion of that be held back and sold on the open market as feed?

The sun shouldn't cloud what could be a difficult winter ahead and a little bit of planning now could make a huge difference – and that message stands for the supermarket buyers, just as much as it does for farmers.