Enough to make farmers give up

Writers Posted 01/04/21
While this TB menace no longer affects us here, it still hurts.

Recently I discovered that our decision to get out of milking cows was a forerunner for several more herds in West Sussex to follow suit, for whatever reason. One feels that at the root of almost every decision to quit milking remains either effluent problems or DEFRA’s lack of control of TB, which seem to have finally hit home.

It’s annoying to have the occasional reactor, but it’s incredibly stressful when it goes on and on, disrupting dairy farms, their finances, staff morale and the farmers own morale. Just as important was the stress of holding, feeding and rearing young calves on farm because the alternative was killing them at birth. Then to find all post-mortem tests for TB are negative and, often, dozens of healthy adult cattle have been killed for no good reason. It is enough to make even the most dedicated dairy farmer give up.

Now we hear an influential woman in Downing Street has persuaded Boris that the time has come to rely on vaccination to control the plague, rather than culling badgers. So culling licences are run down while badgers are going to be ‘called in’ annually and vaccinated, but with a vaccine that hasn’t yet even been developed!

Even were there a proven vaccine, I fail to see how there can be a reliable method to ensure all a region’s ‘brocks’ present themselves for vaccination, certificated or not. But I am sure Ms Symonds and her friends have the solution. The lady needs reining in, hard and fast, and then told to stick to what she knows, as opposed to what she thinks she knows…

While this TB menace no longer affects us here, it still hurts that so many good stockmen, (were I politically correct and ‘woke’ I would of course say stock persons), with all their years of experience, coupled with some very good herds, are gone. So much of the country’s less valuable land has been well utilised by cattle for so many years, and the landscape shaped by them.

I am thinking of the river valleys along the south coast and the less workable areas of the South Downs in particular, but there are many more similar areas across the British Isles which have developed into what they are today with the strong influence of the many dairy and beef herds the land has traditionally supported.

At the speed we dairymen and our grasslands are departing, there will be much change, and not for the better, when it comes to preserving the natural environment and its many reliant species.

Just look at the huge reduction in flies, caused mainly by the lack of muck dropped on the land by cattle. So the swallows, swifts and martins fly elsewhere in summer. Does Ms Symonds take this into her calculations as she presses her boyfriend to save the ‘top of the food chain’, the disease carrying badgers? The herds go, the landscape changes for ever and the limp, deluded, ‘veggie types’ make another gain.

This has been a difficult spring around West Sussex for many arable farmers to find a profitable crop to grow. The problem has been the demand for maize, which has ebbed and flowed a bit for the past ten or more years.

Years ago the maize need was based around dairy farmers and their herds’ winter feed. As dairy farms dwindled so that need reduced, and then anaerobic digesters (AD plants), using maize as their feedstock, took up the slack. One plant had a very chequered career, detrimentally affecting the cropping on many nearby farms before closing. The plant’s operators seemed to have little understanding of the need for farmers’ forward planning and cultivations. Or indeed, the law.

We have a 50-acre block of mainly grade one land, all old meadows, which grew maize in 2000. It was lined up for the same crop this summer, but suddenly we, and other local farmers, were told, months too late, in mid-February, “maize isn’t wanted this year”, and so we were faced with fallowing the land or finding an alternative.

It is not that easy to change cropping just as one is getting ready to start cultivations and has the seed booked. It has certainly caused a number of problems. It will be interesting to see how many growers return to this particular AD plant next time they come looking for maize.

Cattle farmers in the south lost a very good friend in late February with the death, after a difficult and debilitating illness, of Arundel farmer/cattle dealer Arthur Harriott.

Arthur was a wonderful judge of cattle, spent many hours every week at cattle markets from Kent to Somerset and had a well-earned reputation as a really fair man to deal with. Auctioneers would often delay a sales start for him to arrive and lead the bidding.

He bought many thousands of cattle a year, many to finish himself, fulfilling orders for a long list of customers wanting animals, or collecting cull cows from many dairy farmers in the area, He had bought my old cows for some 35 years and I never had cause to be anything but satisfied with the returns.

Arthur and his wife Anne loved their horse racing and had one or two very good animals trained by Lady Herries at Angmering Park. He managed to get to Goodwood most summer meetings despite rushing back from markets, such as Frome, after fulfilling his orders. Business before pleasure.

We also learned, some years ago, that Arthur and Anne were married on the same Saturday in September 1967 as my wife and I – well before we knew each other.

Arthur will be very sorely missed by so many, a true Countryman and ‘as straight as a die’. And always with a twinkle in his eye.

Editor’s note – perhaps it’s me, but Nick’s regular criticism of ‘veggie types’ seems to imply that vegetables are part of some hideous ‘woke’ plot, rather than being grown by farmers. And with a strapping 6’7”, far from limp or deluded, vegetarian in the family, I dispute his caricature. Feel free to contribute to our Letters Page to join the debate.


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