THE weather is the warp in the loom of a farmer's life. It is his livelihood, his pleasure, his friend, his enemy, and in consequence, his continuous study. The weather can literally be the difference between success and failure in a farming business.

Following on from the late sowing of crops due to the wet spring, early indications are that yields of both grain and straw will be lighter than usual.

Now the heat wave is beginning to take its toll, with crops and grassland suffering from drought stress. Fields of grass on lighter land are starting to burn and while most silage crops have yielded reasonably well, hay crops have been on the light side. There can be little doubt that the countryside is badly in need of rain.

The week following the Royal Highland Show is when those who make hay start to think about cutting their first fields. Some were brave enough to make a start before the show and take advantage of the good weather. Grass cut in the middle of June is leafy as it hasn't fully matured, so it contains a lot more moisture than grass cut in July. As a result it takes a lot of good weather to dry it out. Still, those "early birds" hit the jackpot and baled some really wonderful, nutritious hay.

Livestock find good hay, particularly that which has been made in June without a drop of rain having fallen on it, irresistible. It has the sweet fragrance of summer goodness and even sick animals that have gone off their food are tempted to eat it.

Farmers all over the UK have literally been busy making hay while the sun shines. There have also been a fair number of thirty to forty year-old, traditional small balers out in action, that have lain neglected in sheds for years. Small hay bales, weighing around 30kg are preferred by people who keep horses. Unlike modern, big bales that weigh around 250kg and need to be mechanically handled, small bales are easily manhandled and ideal for transporting in horse boxes or 4wd trucks - and that makes them ideal for selling as a cash crop.

There are about 1m horses in the UK, and 100,000 of them are in Scotland. Horses love hay and have big appetites, so there is always a ready market for small bales of good-quality hay. So it will have been well worth servicing those old, small balers and getting them back out into the hay fields.

Hay went out of fashion because it can be very difficult to make in a typical, dreich Scottish summer. That's one of the great things about making silage as opposed to hay - at least you usually end up with edible, nutritious feed in most years, whereas there is no similar guarantee with hay.

I well remember the summers of my youth when my father used to try and make about 130 acres of hay. Occasionally he managed to get most of it in perfect condition, usually he had a proportion of it mouldy, and after two memorably wet summers I well recall the end result was best described as indigestible rubbish, that gave off a thick cloud of mould as the cattle shook each section of the solid, mouldy bale, in an attempt to tease it loose.

Haymaking is in essence a game of nerves. It takes real nerves after hearing a poor weather forecast for the next day not to be tempted to bale hay before it has properly dried out. As you watch the sky darken, most, like me give in to the temptation of salvaging what we have nearly won by persuading ourselves that it is dry enough to bale. The end result is invariably heavy, green bales that heat in the shed to the point where the stack nearly goes on fire, before going mouldy.

Mind you, holding off in the hope that the weather forecast is wrong, and the dark clouds will pass over during the night to clear the sky in preparation for a glorious day, with drying winds, rarely paid off for me. Other folk seemed to get away with holding their nerve, but any time my father or I tried it, we always awoke the next morning to a field of sodden hay. That would be followed by weeks of shaking it out to dry, before the next downpour undid all our work.

Thank goodness modern silage equipment was developed so that farmers can now be fairly sure of making edible, nutritious, winter fodder most years.