Ministers must understand the despair caused by TB

Writers Posted 05/10/18
BBC weather forecasters talk about rain – or even dry weather – being welcomed by gardeners, with only scant mention of farmers.

Firstly, a report on the initial findings of our two recent TB reactors, killed following the last “severe interpretation” test failure. Quite predictably both cows showed “non visible lesions.”

I know the experts say that means nothing, yet it’s experts that have designed the testing regime, the same people who have made – and continue to make – such a great success of eradicating TB nationwide. They are the same group, indeed, who have allowed the country to go from its very largely clear TB status in the seventies to today’s appalling situation as they succeed in spreading the scourge ever wider across the country.

Really this test result was in a way unsatisfactory because if the animals’ samples had shown any lesions, the vets could quickly isolate the type and source of infection and then identify pretty accurately where it had come from.

As it is we can only surmise and continue getting, like many other farmers in the area, intermittent reactors and “inconclusives” which stop farms operating as normal dairy farms, incurring huge unwarranted extra costs and inconvenience. More to the point is the serious worry and increased workload on other cattle farmers within the radial zones. It challenges every person and family involved within the cattle industry.

The result now is that we will have to undergo a further two clear 60 day tests using the same hit and miss method which everyone, except the experts, believe are extremely unreliable. Meanwhile the disease continues to spread, resulting in yet more healthy animals killed, with huge sums of taxpayers’ money wasted. I suppose we can for a few more months blame the whole policy on the whims of the European Union commissioners. However I think our own past and present ministers have a hell of a lot to answer for. They need to get on to the affected farms to understand the total upheaval and despair that their incompetence is wreaking. And listen to those who are affected.

We managed to get the maize harvested, clamped and sheeted by 6 September, our earliest ever. It was a difficult year leading to harvest but in the end the job is behind us. The drought affected crops produced between five tonnes an acre up to just over nine tonnes. The average was a paltry 7.22 tonnes/acre across the board. Towards the end of June the crop, generally – allowing for about three acres with wireworm damage – looked on target and promising.

By the end of that month it was parched and dying on its feet. When it eventually rained, at the end of July, it stopped most of it dying. But with all the normal growth stages lost, the cobs never filled and many were so low on the stalk we lost them and a large amount of value due to the impossibility of harvesting so close to the ground. The fact we harvested as much as we did - three quarters filling our clamp, which is enough to get the herd through until next autumn - seemed an impossible dream only a month earlier. So we were lucky.

One needs to remember that it costs as much to produce a poor crop as a good crop. The yield difference can be between five tonnes an acre up to well in excess of 20 to 25 tonnes. The almost unappreciated factor (to most people) is the need for good regular rain. The BBC weather forecasters talk about rain, or even dry weather, being welcomed by gardeners, with only scant mention of the farmers. Yet as we move forward on our own, free from Europe, we will need to be concerned ever more about producing from English soils, producing and maximising what we can grow on this little island. This is going to be vital.

One of the most rewarding aspects of having the privilege of writing for a magazine like South East Farmer is in the responses one receives - whether positive or negative really doesn’t matter. It is just the knowledge that people take the time to read an article. When you hit on a topic which in turn strikes a chord, and your views find agreement, it is rewarding. Yet, equally, even when they don’t agree, it’s good to get others’ opinions. More acceptable, one imagines, than getting the mindless abuse thrown around on social media, where rather sick people apparently print vehement rubbish without having the guts to put their name to it. In the meantime please do keep letters coming. By the way… I am not on Twitter or Facebook!

In recent weeks more has been published about the new agriculture bill being proposed to take the UK from membership of the EU back to independence.

An initial speed read of the online document which is all I have time for in order to meet the editor’s deadline does seem to show some potentially interesting ideas, although I do see government giving with one hand and quickly taking back with the other.

Clearly the early reports don’t give full details, which will come later, and my own initial and practical concerns centre on tales circulating regarding the way livestock farmers will be required to handle our waste. By which I mean muck.

It has being suggested, but not presently verified, that we may not be able to store our middens (dung mixes) on winter farmland, as yards are cleared, ready for spreading in spring. Also, any muck spread on the land will have to be ploughed in within 24 hours. The idea is to save the planet! Both these situations spell severe problems, practical and on a cost basis. Anaerobic digestion plant manufacturers and slurry handling manufacturers will doubtless be delighted at the prospects but all farmers with tight margins would be crucified. Perhaps by next month this will become clearer?


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