Staffing in the NHS remains an ongoing dilemma. As a junior staff nurse I was summoned to the office where the Sister sternly reprimanded me. ‘Monica, you must never write your thoughts down on paper!’ My crime was to send a letter to the hierarchy about the need for extra staff and concerns over security at night. This matter had long been mooted within our Emergency Unit but no action had been forthcoming. Happily I discovered that documentation achieves results.

There’s talk of cross party parliamentary cooperation to tackle the NHS debacle. If only politicians could leave their ego’s behind, they might make more progress. Many of society’s underlying problems have a recurring theme. The thorny issues regarding labour and housing continue to hit the news. I wonder if it is wise to build quite so many houses in the South East. The infrastructure to support these developments just isn’t adequate.

As I write this, Bewl Water reservoir level is at 34% capacity, and Darwell at 46%. A few weeks ago a 21 inch diameter water main that crosses our land sprang a leak. The resulting water flow was an impressive sight, resembling a mini Niagara Falls! Luckily the escaping water cascaded down a nearby stream. The water company worked night and day to fix it. These incidents certainly don’t help the limited water supply. The South East is not renowned for high rainfall and more houses require more water.

People need places to live and I’m delighted that our youngest recently had her offer on a house in Chichester accepted. She studied at the Royal Agriculture College in Cirencester and gained a degree in Agri-food. She now works as a sales account manager in the food industry. Margins are tight within the food chain, but generally the greater profit is made higher up the chain, it is rarely at the farming end! It’s not hard to see why many of today’s youth turn their backs on rural careers.

However there are some that buck the trend such as the young speakers represented at The South of England’s Conference. Incurring criticism of too much galavanting, Nigel and I attended the technical forum on soil and grassland management. Here the importance of looking after our soil was ingrained in us. A free event worth attending. The evening debate was entitled ‘Evolution or Revolution? The next 50 years’. Three generations of the Appleton family gave a great account of how their family farm and dairy herd has been built up, during a time when the number of dairy farms has reduced by sixty percent.

David Wilson, who manages the Duchy Home farm was very entertaining. The audience laughed when he showed a picture of a shepherd, commenting that the lad could afford to farm sheep because he had another job! David emphasised the importance of health, interacting with the consumer, gaining knowledge and importantly knowing how to use this information wisely.

He pointed out that land prices have no correlation to the amount of money that can be generated from it. He told us about the protectionist system operating in Switzerland. Whereby only people who have experience in agriculture and intend to farm are allowed to buy land. Eliminating investment buyers makes more land available for genuine farmers. This must help more ‘hands on’ people to become involved in the industry.

The third speaker, Peter Kendal appeared to promote, big is beautiful, which I don’t necessarily agree with. He started by introducing himself as a small farmer, farming 2,300 hectares! He put up a graph (available on the AHDB website) which shows how red meat consumption is declining. He then smugly told us, he has gone into broiler chicken production because consumers are eating more chicken. Peter condoned ‘smart farming’, he told us that he prefers to use automation and get his exercise in the gym.

As Levy payers, I guess we’re helping to fund Peter Kendal’s fifty grand a year AHDB chairman’s salary. He intimated, that when times get tough the larger farms will simply gobble up the smaller ones. Should the big boys be receiving government support? I don’t think so. I fervently hope family and start-up farms, will continue being part of the rural community, looking after the land and producing quality food. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen post Brexit. We can take comfort from the fact that the population is expanding, everyone needs to eat, and we can produce food. We can adapt and I firmly believe that ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’.

On our farm, the oats and grass seed is now well established. The tups have been busy and the cattle are housed. Lulu the orphan calf rushes over when called. Her tail flicks like a clock’s pendulum and her moist nose glistens as she enthusiastically devours her milk. She doesn’t miss an opportunity, topping up with sneaky feeds from unwary cows. We have our TB test this week which is always an anxious time. Mr ‘Crack on’ is coming in to help. Here’s hoping we get a clear test result.

Recently there’s been much razzmatazz about the iPhone X facial recognition facility. Did you know that sheep are one step ahead of Apple. They’ve been recognising faces for years! It’s official, researchers at Cambridge University have proven that sheep can pick out familiar faces. My flock certainly follow a white sack when they see one. They mobbed an unsuspecting rambler carrying a white bag. Perhaps my sheep need a trip to Specsavers!

Wishing everyone a joyous festive season. Please don’t mix drinking alcohol with driving. Christmas can be a lonely time for some, could you help? Have fun. Happy farming in 2018. My New Year’s resolution: Keep writing down my thoughts.