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The oats in a two and a half acre patch beyond the house – NB orange, dead countryside…

The plans I had to cut and dry my oats in the autumn are beginning to fall apart. The crop is ripening fast in the heat, and now two thirds of it are yellow gold. This is far ahead of schedule, and the dry summer has played havoc with my plans.

This would hardly matter at all under normal circumstances. I would simply harvest my crop a month early, but the dryness has hurt in other ways. Our best hayfield has failed to produce a single blade of grass in the six weeks since we cut it, and the six acre meadow by the merse is horribly brown and lifeless. The chances are that I will not get a second cut of grass this year, and I was relying on at least fifteen bales of silage to help feed the cattle over the winter. As it stands, I will come up short. I need to make alternative plans.

Plan B would be to cut my oats now and bale them into “whole crop” silage to plug the gap. This would be a shame as I was hoping for a traditional harvest of stooks and sheafs in the stackyard, but the summer has been so bizarrely disastrous that I am sorely tempted to grab what I have now. I could leave it to mature fully and derive similar benefit from the crop, but my luck could run out and the whole lot could be lost in bad weather during August and September. This would be great for the birds, but it would leave me sorely out of pocket. By my reckoning, the oat crop could offer seven weeks of decent feeding – this could be an important part of the winter’s puzzle – do I want to gamble with losing it, or should I accept the “bird in the hand”?

Once the oats are off, I could sow the stubble field with grass or stubble turnips and give myself an extra boost at an uncertain moment, but it is all a nail-biting gamble. Of course my project is small beer compared to some of my neighbours, but with my first calves growing well and the wind behind me, I am loathe to lose this momentum. Everybody is suffering in this desert, and autumn looms heavily on the horizon.

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