Was there ever a more depressing harvesting period in your own memory than the one now just concluded? I suppose it depends how long that memory goes back, although I certainly cannot remember one like it since, I believe, 1962 when our Massey Harris 726 bagger combine stood motionless, sheeted over in a field of ripe Proctor spring barley, up on the South Downs, for two whole weeks, with the grains sprouting green in the standing heads. Fortunately in those days we had the facilities to roll it and feed it to cattle otherwise, if it had been today there would have been little viable use for it.
This year most of the crops in East and West Sussex were removed by the 10 September, and many well before. But one heard stories of many acres of grain being seriously damaged as day after day remained wet and grey. It’s no consolation perhaps but, if this had been three years ago, the value lost would have been pretty well twice what it is today. No, that’s no consolation, is it. I know from contacts up in Scotland a lot of their crops were still not ripe towards the end of September and while they are used to late harvests they are having a pretty torrid time.
We were very fortunate, with hire of a neighbour’s combine, to get just more than 100 acres of malting Barley cut two days before the weather broke in early August with the straw baled and stored in the dry the evening before the weather went belly up. Sometimes one gets lucky! And the grain made a nice malting sample. Doubtless, though, it will soon make a pathetic and unrewarding sale price.
The last week of September saw the usual traumas associated with yet another round of TB tests. This time it was a six month follow up test, made necessary by the infection discovered in West Sussex last winter among beef stores shipped in from the West Country. Unfortunately our test threw up an inconclusive animal, which now has to be isolated for the next 60 days, before a further individual test. As we are a closed herd there is only one area to look at, if she is confirmed as an eventual reactor. Badgers, and there are too many on farms all along the Downs. With these recent scares of TB hanging over my and so many farmers’ heads, it gives one more good reason for despondency and will, in many cases, be the straw that closes a herd.
Notwithstanding this, it is quite beyond me why cattle from infected areas are allowed, under today’s circumstances, to be imported to largely clean parishes. Indeed it is almost beyond comprehension that finishers will risk bringing them into such areas. It’s not an ideal way to get on the Christmas card list of your fellow stock farmers! It’s not so much that they pass the disease on as get areas closed down by Animal Health, who then impose often unwarranted and always terribly disruptive new routines on other healthy local herds, where there is already a huge workload.
Since the problem reared its head in West Sussex last autumn there appear to have been a rash of inconclusive test results and, as far as one hears, large areas of the county are under routine skin testing and pre movement testing. It is always hard to get real information because many farmers treat having TB in their herds rather like leprosy and pretend, if they say nothing, it will go away. Well it won’t and openness on the subject would, I’m sure, help move things forward.
Unfortunately almost everything being done to control TB at the moment is really like sticking a plaster on an amputation because until we get back to the situation of less, disease free, badgers – as we largely had in the sixties and early seventies – the situation is simply not going to begin improving. Once we get to that stage one hopes that vaccines will be available to treat all our cattle which must these days inevitably risk contact with brock. We are nowhere near that stage yet with new vaccines, despite the blandishments of the badger protection groups bleating on about vaccinating badgers annually – as though it is as simple as sticking a needle in one’s pet dog.
The total of badgers actually killed in last year’s cull probably amounted to some 2,500 which caused the likes of some high profile self publicists to berate the government and promote law breaking. Yet in that same period almost 33,000 – yes, 33,000 – outwardly healthy cattle, valued at over £100 million were taken off farms and killed, due to the presence of infected badgers. And what a loss to the country!
To blame cow to cow infection shows the blind ignorance of the anti brigade, because the last thing stock farmers want to do is spread any disease. The carrier is well known, yet this band of extremists have set themselves up as judge and jury, when experience tells stockmen quite clearly where the trouble is. Perhaps these rural agitators would enjoy watching these old servants being euthanised, as we farmers ourselves have to.
We now need five years of an intensive nationwide cull, unaffected by political foment, and the industry might be getting back again to where it was in the early seventies: TB clear. Just ready for the next politically motivated bully boys, and their fellow travellers, to upset the applecart again.
I have just seen what the European Union aid package is worth to UK farmers. The princely sum of £1,820 per farm across the board. Given the milk price is still some nine pence per litre below our production costs, it’s hardly going to make any difference. It will barely compensate four day’s actual losses.