COLUMN: Weather Wise with Gordon Currie

Hungry: after months of routine feeding through the long wintertime, cows can look forward to pastures of fresh, green grass once warmer weather arrives. (S)
Hungry: after months of routine feeding through the long wintertime, cows can look forward to pastures of fresh, green grass once warmer weather arrives. (S)
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More meteorological musings from Gazette columnist Gordon Currie, plus prospects for the week ahead:

If each day is dull and gloomy

With horizons dark and cold

Then look beyond this misery

Surprises will unfold;

As Nature’s scene is set to change,

We’ve witnessed it before –

Sunny days will turn the lock

To open Springtime’s door!

A world of newness, life re-born

Where plants survive from seeds –

Behind the farmyard dung-heap

There’s a green mosaic of weeds;

We question Nature’s infancy -

Where does it all begin?

It’s something we call genesis,

A springboard to the Spring!

The coming of springtime in all its shapes and forms has been extolled by writers down the centuries but we cannot ignore some of the unforgiving realities related to the weather at this particular time of the year.

Anthony Trollope (1815 -1882) produced a very brutal opinion of spring when he wrote “the comic almanacs give us dreadful pictures of January and February; but, in truth, the months which should be made to look gloomy in England are March and April. Let no man boast himself that he has got through the perils of winter till at least the seventh of May”.

He wrote those lines in spring 1858, an exceptionally cold and late season which seemed to be nature’s penance for producing roses in bloom on a very mild Christmas Day, 1857.

In today’s farming world, our past memories can easily relate to Trollope’s condemnations of the British springtime.

I sometimes think that the weather of March has perhaps the greatest bearing upon the destinies of fields, crops and pastures than any other month of the year.

Maybe this is too bold a statement to make, conjured from my own farming blood’s instinc when March is recognised for opening the gateway to the year, with brighter, clearer skies and the assurance that spring will burst forth.

When the warm rays of March sunshine begin to slant through the open spaces of large cattle sheds and fall upon the backs of restless cows it may be said that no other month possesses such natural powers of motivation which are transmitted to every living creature on the farm.

Following weeks of resignation through the long 
wintertime of routine feeding, the animals suddenly realise that there are better things in this world – a natural calling beyond the stack-yard gate to those wider, greener horizons where fresh grass awaits.

This entire process has never been more critical than at the present time against a background of depleted winter feed and the dire urgency of the need for grass.

The question arises as I write – will the weather produce the initiative for “early bite” grass in this year’s March?

The financial reasons for early-bite grazing could not be more obvious this year, in terms of being “the sooner the better”.

Grassland pioneers made tremendous advances with early and rapid growth responses in exploring many varieties of Danish ryegrass in the second-half of the last century, which were widely adopted by many stock farmers for being superior to other types of ryegrass.

One of the Danish ryegrass virtues was the hardiness to withstand the cold springs in some years.

At this juncture, it is interesting to discover just what the Danish farmers are up against when comparing their springtime temperatures with ours.

Taking the figures for Copenhagen, for example, the mean March temperature figure is little more than 37F (3C), considerably lower than ours at 43F (6C), but the Danish secret lies in the margin of temperature increase between the end of March and the end of May, +9F (+5C) compared with our +5F (+2.7C) over the corresponding period.

Undoubtedly, the Danish ryegrass is ideal for Denmark’s enthusiastic rise of temperature whereas the British graziers in north-east England have to have patience, due to the cold North Sea with its temperature little more than 42F (5C) in March and April.

Centuries ago, in the 1794 Review of Northern Agriculture, Messrs Bailey and Culley stated “in the spring months, cold, piercing easterly winds are most prevalent; and our longest droughts are always accompanied by them, in some places they have acquired the name of ‘sea – pines’ from the slow progress vegetation makes whenever they continue for a few weeks.

“Rain is of little use while they prevail, from the great cold which always accompanies them.”

There are many factors to consider in a cold March, not least the marked variations of temperatures between sheltered south-facing pastures and the exposed wind-swept ridges of open fields facing towards the north and east.

It is in these early spring weeks of March and April that the differences in maximum and minimum temperatures arising from exposure, relief of land and shelter are more effective because they range on either side of the growing threshold temperature of 42-43F (6C).

In spite of all the technology being applied nowadays for the promotion of “early bite,” the weather has the final say.

Even in 2013, we have to acknowledge the old wisdom: “None so surely pays his dept, as wet to cold, or cold to wet!”.

PROSPECTS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

This weekend will see the development of a low pressure system south of Iceland, effecting a temporary milder respite with westerly winds but the subsequent movement of this low will be south-eastwards, with the likelihood of further cold, polar air on northerly winds spreading southwards again behind it.

Becoming milder for a few days, with spells of rain or showers and sunny interludes as winds turn more westerly. Day temperatures rising to 50-55F (10-13C). Colder, wintry conditions possibly returning later in the week, with northerly winds. Frost risks continuing 32-28F (0 to -2C).