This March will close the door on two generations of farming for my family. It’s time to batten down the hatches and secure the future.
Is this being defeatist? I don’t think so. The industry has changed by moving positively in leaps and bounds into the twenty first century. Ninety per cent of this is a good thing. But sadly, it’s the ten per cent which is where I am, and I have felt left behind.
The days of completing first cut silage within two weeks are long gone. Ford 5000s, Fordson Super Majors rolling in the clamp and aching biceps are now but a distant memory. These outdated machines have been replaced by hybrid monsters which can drive themselves, articulate and extend. Are they efficient? Most definitely, until they go wrong!
Large modern day dairy herds have an insatiable hunger for feed, resulting in crops being hauled large distances and cows being kept in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The work place has, I am pleased to say, become a better environment for its dedicated work force. I can recall my Pa offering a new Class Dominator to his combine driver with the option of a cab! The request was kicked into touch: “Governor. Why would I want that? I need to hear the engine and that drum!” was his response.
Where is the logic that a pint of milk competes with a pint of water on the supermarket shelf? We sold our 160 cow dairy herd in 1990. The price then was 26p per litre. What is the price today? Very painful is the answer, I think.
The art of being a good stockman and farmer now has a third dimension – a relentless stream of form filling that has become the main artery to farm income. This side of modern day farming requires me to employ highly skilled form fillers to complete and to interpret what you can do and what you cannot do with your land.
Take for example the October 2014 update on the new common agricultural policy schemes in England. Under the section icons there are various comments such as: “has been decided,” “hasn’t been agreed yet,” “since we published our last leaflet more decisions have been made.” Two icons next to each other mean that this information wasn’t agreed in an earlier leaflet, but is now. But I didn’t even understand the first leaflet!
Good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC) four is about maintaining minimum soil cover and GAEC five – minimum land management reflecting site specific conditions to limit erosion.
The list of how to conform goes into many leaflets and changes as often as my overdraft – daily! I feel sure I have quoted the above out of context.
As my adviser said to me: “You will earn more money Charlie by sitting in the office than you will ever do sat on a tractor.”
So, my take on this is that some day in the not so distant future we will be sending driverless tractors out to work, operated of course from the comfort of the office!
There has been one benefit to having a small, marginal, tenanted farm – there has been absolutely no need to keep an eye on the calendar. Every three years, as regular as clockwork, that lovely letter comes through the door from my landlord’s agents to remind me (as if I would forget) that’s its time to increase the rent. It’s then back to the drawing board and, like all businesses, try to justify our existence and turn a profit.
Fortunately for me, some diversification on my own freehold has enabled me to stay in what has been my way of life, farming. However, with the restrictions on the old tenanted land, income from diversification was not an option and profitability was becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.
Fashions come and go, recommended sowing dates, minimal cultivations, and three times a day milking. The new breed of farmer now has to embrace so many skills taking into account not only food production but also the whims of politicians, market changes, Brussels and not forgetting the environment.
British farmers have been and continue to be some of the finest in the world using sustainable methods. A profitable animal is a healthy animal. If it is not healthy it’s not profitable, so it’s in the interest of the farmer to look after his stock. Yup – it’s as simple as that.
I stand to be corrected, but I do believe there is a place for organic farming. However Joe Bloggs has X to spend and organic food is not going to be top of his shopping list.
Sustainable energy comes with conflicting directives from our government and politicians. It’s easy to confuse me with terms such as carbon footprint and trading ROCs!
Now that I have had my little moan its time to remember the happy times that I have had from this great industry –such as getting that first load of winter barley away to Shoreham, before the Chichester plain men started (boys ground)!!; watching with my late Pa our four furrow reversible plough cut its first furrow behind a Muir Hill 121 with Roy Black at the wheel; seeing the first cows go through our 8:16 Herringbone for the first time; at one stage, having the same bank manager, accountant and solicitor for 15 years; leaving the collecting yard gate open during morning milking and extracting two cows from the shallow end of our neighbour’s swimming pool. (no casualties: just a water colour change and damage to the pool!); Kay Carslaw putting us top of our dairy group; the huge privilege of knowing quality countrymen past and present, where their word is their bond. The list could go on…
I am not ashamed to have enjoyed my country sports. It’s not all about killing things. It upsets me that country folk following hunting and shooting are being demonised. It has been and I hope will continue to be a way of life. So it’s a chapter closed for my family.
To conclude, thank you Ketches for all the memories you have given me. No money could buy this precious time we have spent together.
You have taught me to respect your very being, only to be ignored at my peril.
Muscle and brute mechanical strength is no match for you, mother nature having the last word at every turn.
Timing is everything and it is what makes you tick. In return your reward is forage for our stock and copious amounts of grain that grace your fields.
My humble contribution has been to repay your generosity by feeding you and trying to keep you in the manor you have been accustomed to.
Along the muddy road we have together seen many changes. Some have been detrimental and have been imposed by those who think they know better.
The seasons have come and gone with magnificent woodlands and enchanting wetlands giving so much pleasure to wildlife and game.
Many beings past and present have walked your velvet Wealden fields. They may have passed on but their memories are stored in your timeless archives.
Hours of endeavour spent planning your future will now be a memory. It has been a pleasure to work with you. So thank you dear Ketches – God bless.