Milk crisis and four lambs at once
WE didn't know it but ahead was looming one of the wettest summers on record. It blighted the growing season. And yet a reader told the Journal about what is thought to have been North Devon's biggest potato.
It was a 1.8kg spud measuring ten inches long given to photographer Leon Shaddick by a neighbour. It must have enjoyed the perfect mix of sun and rain.
But then the clouds arrived, and stayed. Abnormally high levels of rainfall blighted crops, saturated the ground so farmers couldn't get on to the land and made life generally miserable for livestock.
Although the weather was never far from the main conversation in the markets there was another cloud over the agricultural scene – TB in cattle.
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It dominated meetings in April between farmers union members and their national deputy president, Meurig Raymond, in Bishops Nympton and Torrington.
Mr Raymond warned of the prospects as he saw them: "I know it will take ten years but we've not got any chance of beating this disease until we eradicate it in badgers."
There were hopes that a badger cull in North Devon or on Torridgeside sometime in the near future would promise relief from TB's clutches.
But while those hopes were raised by the prospect of trials in Somerset and Gloucestershire planned for the autumn, the badger lobby was planning its campaign to prevent any cull taking place.
The fields were full of new lambs during April and in May a Petrockstowe farmer welcomed his first quadruplets after 50 years of caring for sheep.
Alan Hunkin of Woodhouse Farm credited the earlier spring sunshine.
"The weather's been absolutely fabulous," said the 66-year-old who until then had only witnessed triplets born to his flock.
But no sooner was Alan celebrating his success than the weather changed again and a Braunton asparagus-grower was complaining of the way it was affecting his crop.
David Hartnoll from Braunton told the Journal normally he would have been harvesting by the middle of April but a month later he was only just starting.
He described it as bad news because the picking season is over by June 20, although there was some consolation, added David, in the extra flavour created by the slow growth.
May brought with it the first of the agricultural shows, the Devon County at Westpoint, near Exeter, where a North Devon cow, Garradon Fuschia, notched up a rare success for her sex despite displaying a mini-tantrum in the showring.
For a female to win best of breed in the Ruby Red Devon classess was unusual, given the size and presence of their bigger male rivals and Fuschia's owners, Angus and Joy Cottey, were delighted at the achievement.
Further laurels came the way of a family from Winkleigh whose green farming credentials so impressed the judges at the tourist board, Visit England, that they won the year's national award for sustainable tourism.
The winners, Maggie Watson and Ian Ripper, of Wheatland Farm, had already featured in the farming pages because of their extraordinary dedication to energy conservation and environmental care.
The enterprise is 100 per cent powered by renewable energy methods and carries out extensive recycling. The couple said the award was recognition for their aim to show other owners of land the asset it can be for wildlife, the environment and as an income.
In June we reported how the sound of silence on a farm hit by foot and mouth ten years earlier had been replaced by the sound of success in the shape of a prize-winning herd of Hereford cattle.
The disaster of 2001 carried off the dairy herd at Great Frenchstone, leaving Lloyd and Angela Ayre feeling they were living in a ghost town.
"We wanted something of interest to look after," Lloyd said.
"And Angela said she'd like some Herefords. That was nine years ago," he explained in a story about how he and son-in-law Richard Gray scooped the trophies for breed champion at Devon County and the Bath and West Shows.
It was a different kind of showtime for the county's young farmers when more than 800 came to Castle Hill at Filleigh to celebrate their federation's 80th birthday.
The YFC members and their families even enjoyed a brief break from what was becoming the wettest summer on record to walk around the grounds after watching an afternoon of home-grown entertainment.
As if the relentless rain wasn't enough, dairy farmers were backed into a desperate battle to persuade the nation they should be paid more for their milk.
Some travelled from North Devon to a rally of 200 in Somerset to blockade one of the big dairies and to highlight the way they believed they were being manipulated by the industry.
The dairy representative for the NFU, Andy Branton, from Uplowman, told the Journal the action had moved prices in the right direction but "The buyers won't just cave in."
And they didn't. But as we'll see in the last part of the 2012 review next week, the year has seen a turn round from the big supermarkets.