My first reaction to the yellowing leaves in my main crop of winter barley was alarm and intense disappointment. I thought it was a serious outbreak of barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV), like we had in the otherwise golden year of 2022. In that crop the virus kept visibly spreading and the crop ended up yielding poorly and busheling so badly that we failed for the first time to qualify for our quality bonus. That year, as in last autumn, we didn’t apply an aphicide and of course we are forbidden to use the excellent seed dressing that was so effective against BYDV – a decision which should be revisited in my view, but that is for another day.

This time I am almost certain it is different. I have had one diagnosis of rhynchosporium, brought on I presume because of a delay in applying a protective spray with the continuous wet weather. This makes a lot of sense, especially as the emerging flag leaf is completely clean, while the affected lower leaves have those typical brown blotches that I have always associated with rhynchosporium.

With the fungicide applied and emerging leaves clean, I hope we can expect a normal yield in terms of quantity and quality. We will monitor closely as we go. It is not for nothing that May is often referred to by older farmers as the “King month” and growth is explosive at the moment, while the first-cut silage ground is closed up and fertilised with less nitrogen than usual to keep nitrate levels in the grass low, as we aim to cut at the normal time of late May/early June, depending on the weather.

However, for the cattle belatedly out on grass, we have never gone in to graze such heavy covers. For most of the permanent pasture, it is the first grazing of the season so we want to graze as much as possible before quality begins to deteriorate.

Theoretically, we should probably close some off to take extra silage, but the permanent pasture, unlike the new leys we have for the first cut, I find difficult to ensile in a pit satisfactorily. We could make baled silage, but we can review that option in a few weeks, depending on how we progress.

Meanwhile as we continue to sell cattle from the shed as they become fit, I am not that surprised that there are more cattle coming out than expected. It was inevitable that those with facilities and feed would keep more forward stores in to finish rather than let them out to cut up soggy ground. I presume we will have a corresponding scarcity later in the season, but in the meantime, I hope that factories won’t drop prices to take advantage of a temporary weather-induced temporary supply.