Country Matters by the Hodge Sept 2018 Harvest

Beautiful harvest produce! What’s would you pick?
Country Matters
By The Hodge
“Thank heavens, the sun has gone in, and I don’t have to go out and enjoy it.”
Logan Pearsall Smith – Afterthoughts 1931

Oh, how quickly time passes as you get older! It seems no time ago I was photographing the beautiful local landscapes in the snow of winter and here we are on the threshold of autumn already. And what is worse, the uncharacteristic long hot spell has interfered with nature so much that flowers have passed all too quickly and all the fruits are ripening early. Does this mean that winter will be longer still?

Blackberries have been ready to harvest for weeks and ripe apples are falling off the trees. Those migratory birds who rely on such fruit for their winter fodder – the redwings and the fieldfares – how will they survive if it has all been and gone before they arrive? The squirrels are already plundering the hazel nuts and as I write September is still a while away.

Leaves are falling from trees prematurely as the trees themselves have been distressed by the heat and the drought. Even if it remains mild in the autumn, it will seem like winter if all the trees are bare before their due time. So, if you enjoyed the hot spell, be prepared for the after-effects for it’s bound to impact on the coming months!

* * * * *Farmers too have been badly affected by that hot, dry spell. With the lack of rain, most cereal crops just stopped growing but began ripening prematurely with the result that, while the harvest has been gathered in early, the crop is much lighter than expected. Prices will be higher and this will impact on the price you pay in due course, but not favourably!

Similarly, vegetable and fruit crops have also been affected and there are likely to be shortages and price rises. A hint perhaps to fulfilling your dream of growing your own – now’s the time to start!

And for livestock farmers, the situation is truly dire. There is very little grazing for cattle and sheep and as a consequence, preserved fodder – hay and silage being kept for winter feed – has had to be fed during the last couple of months to compensate. The harvest of that was adversely affected, firstly by a wet, cold spring which delayed the first cut and the hot weather stopped the regrowth so few farmers even had enough put by for the winter. As a consequence, the markets are full of stock as farmers try and reduce the pressure but buyers faced with the same difficulties are few and far between. And pig keepers are no better off either. Pigs rely on a cereal-based diet and with the wheat and barley shortages itemised above, feed prices are already rising but not the prices paid by the supermarkets. As usual, it is the risk-taker – the farmer – who gets squeezed by the big boys.

So, one way or another, getting hotter and drier, even for a matter of weeks, is likely to impact of all of us adversely. The climate change brigade will say it’s all the fault of global warming and they may well be right but adverse weather – hot, cold, dry, excessively wet – has been going on in our fair islands for centuries. As recently as 1814, the Thames in London was frozen over to the extent that one of the Frost Fairs was held on the river. Hopefully, it won’t be as cold as that this coming winter!

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