So, among his other ambitions, Mr Gove wants farmers to “beautify” their farms to qualify them for future subsidies.
On reading this news recently the first thing that occurred was that many of us have been doing just that for years, very often off our own bats and out of our own pockets. So it would be good to think there might be some allowance made for that earlier investment towards the country’s overall wellbeing. I am sure Mr Gove means well but equally I am sure that his best intentions - replacing the various payments of the past with specific environmental targets - will rapidly be claimed by others intent on hijacking any future government funding of agriculture for themselves, quickly siphoning off much benefit from the farming industry, or the real needs of real farmers.
In the long term he has to ensure the market value of their crops and produce is reflected in returns to all primary food producers which, ultimately, means the public paying the true price for food. In that way the need for farm support schemes – and taxes – are cut almost at one fell swoop, with the funding of food met by the end user. Then if they don’t want to accept the cost of the food, at least they should have no complaints against producers.
And when drought, pestilence, or international politicians interrupt supplies, and shop prices take off, as they will at times, everyone will simply have to face the real world. Our politicians brought subsidies into the world in the Forties as a way of guaranteeing the British public lower priced and adequate supplies of home grown food.
This plan worked hugely to the benefit of the housewife. But in more recent times it has been distorted by governments’ eager kowtowing to the environmental brigades. These seem more obsessed with building their own influence and empires than in supporting the true source of British production, so endangering our capacity to feed our ever expanding population. Brexit may change that if it gets off the ground.
Basic payment scheme subsidies paid for a bit longer to cover farmers’ ever rising costs are actually soon distributed widely around rural areas, as they enable farmers to pay their suppliers and employees. Unfortunately these payments are more often portrayed as handouts for wealthy landowners, which in most cases is very wide of the mark. As much as I personally dislike them, these payments actually keep the countryside viable.
Another increasing burden on farming is the constantly expanding farm assurance legislation. Thousands of clip board wielding quasi-bureaucrats annually visit farms on the pretext that “the public demands this, or that.” But these officials are doing little other than justifying and securing their own jobs. They come with new lists of requirements, some often quite obscure, making it quite obvious the public would never have known about them, let alone demanded their implementation. These are then added to already long lists, so ensuring these enforcement companies are able to raise staff numbers as they increasingly gold plate their own futures, regardless of the wellbeing of farming generally.
They have all increasingly jumped on the band wagon pushing the belief that the public “cares” more about the issue of welfare than it really does, because most people only want cheap food. I am not knocking the fact that production standards do, of course, have to be maintained. But some of the demanding and unrealistic aspects these box tickers are pushing are fabricated primarily for their own benefit.
Please tell me, for example, what troughs of flowers down a farm driveway – which are reportedly still being specified on some assurance lists – do to enhance the wellbeing of a dairy unit? While roadside verges are left untrimmed (against road safety interests) to allow voles, butterflies etc some privacy, what is so special about prettifying dairy farms’ access by tidying up and planting farm entrances and drives with flowers? This is the countryside for pity’s sake.
Routine vet visits/clinics carried out regularly on (mainly) dairy, pig, poultry farms ensure stock remain in top health and which, without such care, will certainly lead to disease and financial loss for a farm. All reasonable people want the very best for their livestock. Yet to be dictated to, then inspected, by others – probably town dwellers – who quite likely keep their own pets shut up for hours every day in often lonely, uninspiring conditions – without getting half the attention their owners are demanding of us professional stock keepers – is enough to cause reasonable folk to rebel. So one wonders who checks them?
Many farmers are reaching this same viewpoint about these overweening, over-powerful self-policing enforcement agency visitors. It’s time for them to be authorised to back off a bit, Mr Gove.
Better news regards milk prices, in as much as the 30 pence per litre (ppl) figure is back after an almost two year break. Once again most of us are presently almost covering our production costs which allows us to enjoy a hot meal a couple of times a week! The unions are creating hell about the lifting of aspects of the public sector pay cap, by around one to two per cent, but dairy farmers have had to live with an almost 30% price cut for the past two years. Now that is a serious loss of income.
All the maize was clamped for the cows - or a local anaerobic digestion plant - by 14 September which, given the mixed weather these last four or five weeks, is surprising. Our crop was quite good across the board, on all land types, and the cobbing was exceptional. It was not unusual to see three good cobs, and a huge percentage of two good ones, per plant. Average yield was 15.9 tonnes an acre with tops of 18.8 tonnes an acre.