All parties are agreed the state of the river banks are suffering seriously and that the Arun itself is partially blocked and silting up in some crucial places. But to get anything, except talk, from the EA seems impossible. A lot was said by them about the problem as the waters subsided last spring but talk alone solves nothing. That was the time the work needed doing, to give the repairs a chance to settle and grow over with grass. But almost every conversation with them was rounded off with “but the agency simply hasn’t the funds…”
With their approval we raised the level of 75 yards of our worst damaged area “in house” in March, since when nothing more was heard from the agency until around August, when I received a call to say they were sending in a team to repair the banks on three adjoining farms, including ours. What were they planning, I asked? “We will let you know soon,” was the reply.
They then called in early October to ask whether we could meet because they were bringing machinery in the following Monday and needed my keys for access. We met with them and their contractors that Friday.
The next Monday came and went, with no sign of any machinery so a week later I spoke to their head office in Worthing. “We’ve had a bit of a hitch but the plans are still on…”
Next thing I heard, in early November, was that they had indeed been working next door but had had to pull out because of the (very predictable) damage they were causing. They had, I’m reliably told, been warned by one of their own officers – a man who probably knows as much about local flood conditions as anyone – that if they were going to get this work done it had to be done, latest, by September. But of course they are the experts!
Nothing more happened until the end of November when their contractors appeared next door to reclaim two 360 diggers and a dumper which were settling in the wet land. They were still presumably on hire after weeks of inactivity, doubtless costing the agency a lot of the money they don’t have! What planning. They just appeared to be so intent on finally doing something, albeit totally cosmetic and months too late. A year has already been lost in the wettest twelve months I have ever recorded, with more than 43 inches (with 10 days of the year still to run) including more than seven inches in November.
Once March comes we have our own plans afoot to get our own banks completely rebuilt, making them fit enough to last a lifetime. But what really gets to farmers along the Arun Valley is the agency’s incapacity for doing anything other than waving a heavy stick at minor transgressors, setting up meetings and talking. They have been responsible for about a quarter of a century of poor maintenance along the river and it certainly shows. Compounding their neglect, they are now trying to unload their responsibility and leave landowners and farmers to pick up the costs. It is really quite scandalous.
Dairy farmers who may read my articles may recall my comments over the past year concerning our lack of heifer calves relative to bulls and my tongue in cheek suggestion that Genus had been slipping all the rejected male semen to farmers who don’t buy their expensive sexed female semen!
This year things seem to have corrected and, possibly, the company have taken note and done something about it, because out of the first 18 calves we have had 13 heifers! A great relief and, better still, a nice group of animals to help with management; small groups of different sizes are not the easiest to manage. I hope this continues through the winter, by which time I will be looking for homes for later heifers since there is a limit to the number we can rear and indeed need.
Yet with the way milk prices are retreating who is going to want to buy any milk breed heifer calves? Indeed who is going to want anything resembling a milking cow? From a milk price which at least covered production costs in the summer (around 32.5 pence per litre) we are now facing a price for January fast heading south of mid 20ppl. There is no way we can be sure, as it’s dropping so fast. That means we are losing about 25% off the bottom line while all inputs, other than feed costs, increase. Talk is it will go down further and there are few farms able to take losses of such magnitude.
Given that we are certain to lose money there is a case for all milk producers to pour milk away for three or four days to make the buyers and the public aware of what’s happening. Unfortunately there are desperate producers who would take the short term view and seek to profit from the subsequent shortage and do deals, so a boycott would need to really succeed.
By the time David Handley and his Farmers For Action group get plans laid even those producers might be prepared to show solidarity and be ready to take the hard line needed. Throw it all down the drain for a few days and be serious.
Looking at it from a cynic’s angle, as it is losing producers perhaps 10ppl to produce the stuff, you could argue for every litre we throw away we are actually saving money! It may not seem like that but the effect of a fully supported dumping policy might improve returns quicker than any other route.