Archive for the 'Countryside' Category

Wet harvest woes continue

Once again I haven’t had internet connection for several days, so it hasn’t been until today that I’ve managed to catch up on emails and what’s been happening with my Nuffield chums who’ve been having the harvest from hell thanks to the rain.

While things have got steadily drier for me as I’ve headed west towards Adelaide, it seems things are still decidedly soggy in the east. Few farmers have managed to do much harvesting yet, and the quality is looking pretty shoddy.

Looking at the photos sent to me by Nuffield chum Dave Gooden of the farmland near him in Wagga Wagga, it’s not surprising he reported his combine getting bogged seven times in the paddock before he admitted defeat:

Soggy Wogga

Soggy Wagga 2
, who I visited after Dave, has had now had the second-wettest year on record, with 800mm of rain over the year (the annual average is usually just 450mm). Having stayed here for a couple of days and seen some really torrential rainfall myself, it’s hard to imagine just how much rain would have to have fallen to cause this:

Soggy Barooga
Apparently the flooding has now caused $1bn-worth of damage to crops across New South Wales and Victoria. Coming after a decade of drought, the stress became so much for some that there have been reports of farmer suicides.

Thankfully, things aren’t looking quite so bad where I’m staying at the moment. A lot of the rains came just at the right time to help water the crops and the showers haven’t been as persistent. Most farmers’ harvests haven’t been delayed too badly, and the crops are coming off at a good quality – according to an article I read yesterday, farmers in South Australia are going to have the most profitable year out of all the states as a result.


If you go down to the woods today…

So this…

Terrifying spider why I’m never going to live in Australia.

This monster is an orb spider. It usually hangs out in banana plants but today it decided to chillax above the path I was merrily tromping along halfway down Bicton Hill in Clump Mountain National Park.

We’d driven about half an hour from Innisfail to the park, which sits alongside the incredibly picturesque Bingil Bay. Thanks to the warm, wet climate, there’s plenty of rainforest around here to wander through.

Like much of the farmland in the region, many parts of the park’s forest were pretty much destroyed by Cyclone Larry in 2006 (the winds of which were apparently as forceful as Hurricane Katrina). The trees and plants are regrowing though, and there are some interesting things to be found in there:

The forests are also home to something called cassowaries. A cassowary, in case you’ve never heard of them, is a whacking-great, flightless bird that looks a little like an emu, but has a kind of crest on its head. The birds are pretty rare, so we were incredibly lucky to see one wandering through the trees as we were walking. Sadly, being a wild animal and not too fussed about posing for my camera, I didn’t manage to get a snap of it, so you’ll have to be content with a photo I nicked from Google:


Anyway, on the way down from the top of Bicton Hill, thinking Marty had found another cassowary, I happily followed him as he stood grinning and pointing into the leaves.

I never, ever thought I’d have cause to swear at Marty, but being confronted by that spider elicited a rather naughty word. I’m sure I’ll stop shaking at some point tonight…


Bank Holiday comes six times a year…

…Days of enjoyment to which everyone cheers.

Really? Obviously Damon Albarn hadn’t been to where I visited today when he wrote that song.

The sun was actually out for the first time in ages this morning, so we headed to the east coast to make the most of it. Sensing we’d have to move quickly to take advantage of the weather, we went to the nearest resort to Nottingham – Cleethorpes.

It perhaps didn’t help that the sun stayed out for about two minutes before it started chucking it down with rain, but it wasn’t quite the day beside the seaside I had in mind.

Still, it did give me a chance to play with my latest, favouritist iPhone camera app. Look, it even managed to make Cleethorpes look pretty (did I just type that? Whoops. Please don’t come chasing after me, people of Cleethorpes…)


The drive home took us through some cracking Lincolnshire farmland. Like the area around Gob of the Wash’s farm (and most of the county, in fact), the land was as flat as a pancake and looked pretty impressive under the dark clouds.  There were a few combines out trying to make the most of the gaps in the showers too, but it looked as though most of the cutting’s already been done.

The landscape was given even more of a helping hand with a few wind farms. Controversial I know (sorry in advance, Bomber Harris), but I do love a good smattering of wind turbines:

Wind turbines


Where’s Wally?

Here she is:

me looking stupid
I’m getting the insults in before Gob of the Wash does.

It’s a peach of a hat, innit? Bet you’re wondering why I have a scrunched up piece of felt and a feather protruding from my bonce, don’t you?

Every year the Farmers Weekly journos who report from the CLA Game Fair put together a wish-list of items they’d buy from the fair if money was no object.

Regardless of whether I actually would want to buy one, I thought it would be terribly amoosing to have my photo taken wearing a ridiculous hat. What I didn’t think about was the fact the photo of me in said stupid head-wear would be published in this week’s FW.

What’s made it worse is that since checking out the milliner’s website, I realised the lady on the stall actually put it on my head the wrong way around. So that’s why it looks so silly, eh?

What with this photo and a couple of other unfortunate snaps, this week’s issue of FW is actually like a Where’s Wally book, but featuring yours truly. At least my mum will have a field day cutting out the pictures…


Viva las Niagara

Heaven forbid that I would ever be accused of having a romanticised view of things, but I just didn’t expect Niagara Falls to be surrounded by a town that can only be described as as a cross between Blackpool, Las Vegas and Mablethorpe.

My hostess Sarah and her man friend, John, made the 90 minute trip with me from Guelph to the town of Niagara so I could do the tourist thing and see the waterfalls. It’s something I’ve always wanted to visit, and I wasn’t disappointed when I got my first glimpse of them – their size is incredible, the people who even contemplate trying to go over them in a barrel must be utterly bonkers.

niagara falls

For some reason though, I had got it into my head that the falls would be situated inside a national park, not at the side of a pavement on the edge of what felt like a tacky seaside town. Bored of the outstanding natural beauty? Well that’s just fine, pop over to the waxwork museum or spend some dosh at the casino. Apparently this town’s the honeymoon capital of north America – I just hope couples are going there for the view and not so they can get his ‘n’ hers maple leaf hats with their names stitched on.

The area we had to drive through on the way to the falls is rich agricultural land. The region’s always been known for it’s soft fruits and there were loads of roadside stores selling cherries, peaches and blueberries, which have just come into season around here.

fruit stand
The fruit’s dirt cheap too – Sarah bought bags of the stuff for about £8. And that’s even a considerable mark-up from the supermarkets – I bought a peach yesterday for about 15p, while bananas were selling at about 40p/lb. Apparently Ontario’s always had cheap food as it’s been a dumping ground for fresh produce – lorries start on the west coast of America, selling along the way until the ocean stops them from going any further. What’s scary is consumers still complain about how much this stuff costs…


Sneezy going through Canadian farmland

Maybe I was asking for trouble when I took my Matthew Williamson handbag with me on a trip to a goat farm.

Maybe it was my own fault for getting so close to try and take a photo.

Anyway, lesson of today, in case you didn’t know dear readers, is that goats have a powerful sneeze. I s’pose wiping goat snot from a pricey piece of leather – as well as my legs – is another of those ‘Nuffield Experiences’MJWN).

My experience with the runny-nosed ruminant came about during a whistle-stop tour of farms around the Guelph area. Thanks to my trusty guide and Nuffield chum, Karen, I visited three farmers who all had very different enterprises.

There was Paul and his grain storage and farm supplies business:

Paul Sharp

Brent and his turkeys and sheepsies:

And finally, ex-pig farmer Greg with his goats and lambs:

Greg and titchy billy
It’s apparently an unusual thing for me to have seen two farmers who produce sheep in Canada. The country only produces enough lamb to meet 40% of demand – the rest is imported from New Zealand and can only be bought frozen from the supermarket.

In the past, demand for sheep and goat meat hasn’t been very strong, which is why few producers have bothered with it. But these two forward-thinking chaps are hoping to take advantage of a growing demand from Canada’s rapidly-expanding ethnic and immigrant markets. It looks like it could be a profitable move too – Greg can get $212 (£134) for a 115lb lamb, a figure he could only dream of when he was a pig farmer (he switched to sheep and goats earlier in the year after the industry was on the brink of collapse because of low prices and high input costs).

On the way home we drove through some of the province’s Mennonite farmland, which was pretty interesting. Similar to the Amish community I visited earlier in the year in Pennsylvania, the majority shun electricity, cars and so on. Like the Amish community though, some made exceptions – the Mennonite farmer combining Karen’s dad’s wheat was driving a rather lovely, shiny New Holland.


Tea and sympathy

Seeing as he told me he doesn’t read blogs, I think I’m safe to say what I like about farmer Steve, who I met today. This is him overlooking the lake on his farm:


I think Steve’s actually a closet Englishman, as he’s the first person I’ve met in the US who a) owns a kettle and b) knows how to make a decent brew. He’d even heard of Twinings tea and put my mug on a saucer. D’you reckon this kind of detail is embarrassing enough to get him back for calling me Australian?

Anyway, like every other farmer in the state, Steve grows corn and soya. We had a good chat about the kinds of media he uses to get information from, as well as the problems he and other farmers in the US have with explaining to the public about food production. It was easy to be sympathetic to his complaints, as they were exactly the same problems as those in the UK – how to decide upon a united message, how to counter emotion-based attacks from pressure groups and how to explain to children that milk doesn’t magically appear in the supermarket.

It makes me wonder whether we shouldn’t be taking a more international approach to educating the public and sharing the way we do things.


A few of my favourite things

My tent’s up (hurrah for the pop-up variety), the sun’s out, I’m on a farm and I have three days of music ahead of me. What could be better…



I’m trying to save up money for my Nuffield scholarship travels, so to prevent myself being tempted to go out in London this weekend I came up to Nottingham to visit my parents (I’m being so tight, I even travelled here by coach. The least said about that the better).

Anyway, it’s always nice to get out of the Big Smoke and into the countryside. Yesterday I headed up to Crich in Derbyshire to do a spot of hiking. Glorious sunshine, blue skies, trees covered in blossom and woods filled with bluebells and the scent of wild garlic – Thomas Hardy (or indeed, Miss Pickering) couldn’t have come up with anything more bucolic and twee.


It seems spring hasn’t only sprung in the East Midlands this weekend, either. Twitter chum CyberDoyle filmed this video of her cows springing about in the sunshine after being indoors all winter.

Gob of the Wash may bring you dogs dressed as inmates, but I reckon dancing cows and banjo music win hands down:

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