Too much to expect

Writers Posted 05/04/19
Is it really too much to expect the RPA to sort matters out.

Presumably we were not alone in the South East as being one of the farms notified, last autumn, that they would not be receiving their BPS payment for several months. It is extremely irritating when, for no specific reason and with no justified excuses, the RPA effectively says (because of their inefficiency, and probable maladministration) ‘along with thousands of other farmers, you will have to make do till next Spring’.

I believe the payments were due in October so, is it really too much to expect, that with all the technology at their fingertips, they sort out the odd questions of ‘total qualifying areas’, hedgerows ‘ploughed too tight’, ‘dates hedges are trimmed’ and many more matters, before late Autumn, when things could have been settled months earlier. Meanwhile farmers debts build up and require payment. Even then one would expect the RPA would give specific answers as to why they were unable to pay, or what the problem was?

We bought a farm a few years ago which included around 40-50 acres of land under, as I was told, a “very rewarding” Stewardship scheme. One look at the terms/returns, I came to the conclusion it was barely worth a used candle and opted out at the first opportunity. Then, even if you stay in, there is still this problem of delayed payment to frustrate even further. Government simply appears to have no idea how important it is for businesses to receive agreed payments on time. Or of how these monies ‘oil’ the rural economy as bills are paid to waiting suppliers.

With September gone and harvesting completed, last year’s cropping was history. Any doubts or queries the RPA had should have been sorted out months before. Yet they appear to take great pleasure in causing frustration and inconvenience at every turn. Personally I will be pleased when the whole range of aid schemes are gone and done with. As I have said before about Farm aid, certainly in acreage form, I have considered it to have been a disaster since its / my early days, giving the public something to whip the industry with, (remember ‘featherbedded farmers’?) when all farmers need is a fair price for our produce, so we get our returns from the market and payments on time. Then the need for handouts are gone. But, additionally, when they are administered so incompetently it adds salt to sore wounds. But it seems as if the bureaucrats simply must keep us ‘to heel’?

The vast majority of farmers are actually pretty ‘well switched on’ to turning situations to their advantage, and it would not need a lot of thought to make changes to their land and farming to compensate for this conditional, unreliable income. Since writing the above we have now received our overdue BPS money, with minimal deductions, and I hope everyone in similar situations has too.

I was sorry to see minister George Eustice resign from his role last month. He seemed eminently equipped to the position of agriculture minister at Deathra and, unlike so many environment ministers these days, actually knew what he was talking about. I was involved in a teleconference with him last summer and his speed in ‘picking up the threads’ along with the clarity and sense of his responses was most impressive.

Incidentally a number of people ask me why I refer to DEFRA as deathra. It all started when prime minister John Major went to an EU heads of state summit/conference in Florence in 1996 to try to conclude the mess BSE had caused to British beef exports. As a sop to the Europeans he agreed to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of our dairy cows as ‘cohorts to BSE cases’ and among them it transpired he was committing me to hand over some 80+ of my cows, (from a herd of around 140 milkers) for slaughter.

Needless to say I was not too excited at the prospect of losing over half the herd and I dug my toes in. I refused to agree to meetings with their vets, Then cancelled any meetings they arranged at short notice, generally being awkward. This continued for months and months, weekly letters, faxes, quite angry incoming phone calls until, after almost a year, things became quieter and soon the pressure stopped.

I kept all my eighty cows until the end of their natural working lives. Not one of them subsequently went down with BSE. I often think of this now when they decide to take the occasional cow as a sacrificial offering under their half baked TB policy, killing them and then finding no sign of TB. They just seem obsessed with killing healthy animals. So when the agriculture department was rebranded as DEFRA in 2001 it seemed an apt variation …Deathra.

I have refrained from inflicting readers with our supposed TB saga until now; as I write we await news of a surprise Culture test on a previous ‘Inconclusive cow, (yet another 180 degree u-turn by APHA) with another 60 days test in the second week of April. That will be our sixth test since March 2018. A failure from either test could decide whether they are DEFRA, or Deathra. Since that remains one of the options regards the fate of the herd in the event of another questionable APHA ‘failure’ and, I am sure you will agree, Deathra sums the department up well? Even more so now that we have received the result of the outstanding culture test, another negative test, five tests since March 2018, all negative, yet we still remain closed by APHA. Perhaps they simply just don’t like me writing about them?


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