The infamous surprise knock on the door is always on a day when I’ve just read a banner headline such as “Farmers bear the brunt of sheep EID system failures,” “Arable producers hit with financial cross-compliance penalties” or “Onus on farmers to check their records.”
Fearing the worst, I gird my loins as I turn the latch and, sure enough, there on my hearth stands a very pleasant looking young man dressed casually in jeans and a fleece. But, given that he is carrying a clip board, I guess that his reasons for calling are anything but casual.
“Good morning, can I help you?” I say, trying not to look guilty like an already condemned man. I am to be subjected to a “spot sheep and goat movement inspection” which requires me to allow the inspector to check the ear tags of at least 60 of my sheep and give him full access to all my sheep and goat movement records. Any failures and I will be subject to the long arm of cross compliance penalties.
I remind him that I had a similar sheep and goat movement inspection last year and he reminds me that he personally carried out an arable area crop inspection of my farm only a few months ago. He spots my sudden paranoid expression and says: “Some people get the feeling that they are being persecuted by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) but, as far as I am aware, these inspections are usually allocated on a random basis.”
He’s wasting his breath. I look at his estate car and imagine him dipping my head with his right hand as he guides me, hands cuffed behind my back, into the back seat. As I’m driven off to an interrogation centre, RPA staff in white coats wearing blue rubber gloves (so as not to erase my finger prints) can be seen carrying plastic bags full of files from my office.
As I write this I am awaiting my fate. The inspection has been postponed for 48 hours because I was too busy to provide my visitor with a spot inspection on the day as he had wanted. He had very reasonably allowed me two days to reorganise my work schedule to allow time for the inspection. But I am already starting to wish that he had insisted that I drop everything to get on with his visit immediately. Now I have two days to fret about every conceivable innocent cock up that I may have made.
I have an electronic ear tag scanner and have gone to enormous lengths to double check everything that I do. But who is to say that I have picked up on every aspect of the recent changes there have been to cross compliance regulations for sheep and goat movements?
So, dear friends, this may be the last time that I am able to pen my South East Farmer column from my farm office rather than accommodation provided at Her Majesty’s pleasure. But as someone who always tries to look on the bright side, at least once I’m inside I’ll have ample opportunity to read those DEFRA cross compliance guidance notes properly.