It is really disappointing for the farming community to have seen two hard working, sensible, knowledgable, ministers, Jim Paice and Owen Paterson, despatched into the wilderness at the whim political expediency.
For David Cameron to dismiss Mr Paterson just as his huge personal efforts at getting the badger cull underway had begun to bear fruit will hugely disappoint many in the countryside. It was a long term plan that would have worked if pursued. He is blamed for the way the cull figures didn’t satisfy projections. Yet that plan was based on cosmetic estimates of badger numbers, a figure that was never going to be accurate, which was then attacked by the anti brigade, who calculated the difficulty any future minister will now likely have in pursuing the policy in the face of vociferous opposition. For the antis to say the first year of the cull was a disaster was simply an orchestrated lie. Repeated enough times lies are soon taken as fact – but are still lies.
Mr Paterson was blamed for taking a pragmatic stance against the global warming extremists who are forcing the western world into penury by encouraging its governments into increasing taxation as they (the scare mongerers) get rich from their sponsors who benefit directly from their insidious and exaggerated distortions. Many believe – quite sensibly – there are no global warming trends that haven’t been with us for centuries.
Then to see Mr Paterson blamed for the incompetence of Chris Smith’s powerful Environment Agency (EA), when everyone on the coasts and wetlands of Britain knows full well the EA is little more than a cheerleader for the RSPB – intent on turning back the work of many hundred years of progressive drainage as it creates expensive wetland habitats for birds rather than food production – is, were it not so serious, laughable.
You only need to speak to EA staff on the ground to know they are extremely frustrated at the way their work has become, at the behest of Mr Smith’s disciples, a job delegated to the destruction of the country’s drainage systems. Yet somehow Mr Paterson is supposed to be responsible? It will be interesting to see how Elizabeth Truss, as new minister, faces up to these issues. It is hard to have any confidence.
It is a great disappointment to most dairy farmers but, in reality, no great surprise that most producers are having lumps knocked off their milk prices. This is happening just as those prices had actually begun to show the sort of returns needed to fund our own costs and allow for realistic reinvestment in our businesses.
This past year has been encouraging for UK milk production but created a huge headache for the processors, most of whom haven’t developed the infrastructure to cope with the spring excess. So one imagines most producers, while concerned at the continuing cuts, would be a smidgen less concerned if they had some confidence prices will go back up as quickly as they fall. However it will be a big issue if, now they have turned down, it takes months before our returns match the reality of world prices. Milk buyers record in this respect is not good.
With harvest on us grain prices are doing their regular harvest time dive and while the country’s cereal harvest looks encouraging, the price is fast dropping in value. We only have spring barley this year, sown in the forlorn hope of a useful malting premium. Apart from one bit, drilled late in March after six weeks of constant winter flooding killed a young ley, the rest looks very promising and reflects the chemical manufacturers having had a good season.
The maize across the district also looks good so I think there will be full clamps everywhere but one hears a lot of the crop is destined for hungry new anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. Personally I think this is a waste of good cattle food but if the money, and the demand, is there, and the return is profitable, I suppose it must be called progress! From my recent experiences I don’t see AD prices being a fair return for the costs involved. Maize is a very satisfactory crop to grow yet the one worry to me has always been getting it off wetter ground in the autumn. So, with this in mind, I don’t feel the AD dry matter/price conditions we have seen to date compensate for this risk.
Recently it has been suggested we try returning to a crop of my youth, rye, which is easy to grow and very heavy yielding, requiring little inputs. However, when I was told it would yield more than 40 tonnes a hectare and required “only about the same chemical input as cereals” it suddenly seemed infinitely less attractive. Chemical costs are absurd today. Here, we grew 4.2 tonnnes an acre of wheat in 1984 (more than 10 tonnes a hectare in an exceptional season) with but one application of basic weed control, no fungicide or pesticide. Wheat values then, 30 years ago, were about £125 a tonne, much on a par with today! So, who is making all the money out of cereals? DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto et al. Then it crosses one’s mind as to whether today’s varieties are not being deliberately bred to be susceptible to every disease known to man? For growers it seems an endless and extortionately expensive exercise. For the companies mentioned above, it is a bonanza.
Back to the rye option and the point is that with insight into spray requirements, I am now inclined to grow ryegrass instead. There will be three cuts each season and, if grazed by sheep in the autumn, probably three productive years before I need to spend any more than fertiliser and harvesting. Yes, I’m pretty much persuaded!