I’m not sure quite what was expected to happen but the returns from electricty generated by solar photovoltaics (PV) have, apart from generating power in a most natural way, been calculated to make these installations financially attractive enough to generate a good return on capital (something unusual in farming) and to allow owners of poorer land to earn a fair return from their sites.
Yes, this does take the land out of production, for maybe 20 to 25 years, but it does not mean food production on the site ceases for ever. So really, from the landowner’s point of view, it’s been what these days is called a no brainer. After all, what is the merit in cropping land, using expensive tackle, labour, seeds, fertiliser and exorbitant weed control chemicals to produce a crop which, at the end of the day, offers returns which have almost halved in two years? Sure if you can grow four tonness to the acre, year in year out, OK, but many soils won’t do near that.
One would like to think there is enough return from some aspect of farming to encourage people but it’s hard, at the present time, to know where that opportunity is. All my life we heard the old men saying up horn, down corn, or the reverse. The difference today is that everything is down – except, I’m told, strawberries and solar PV.
Present prices are making some arable farmers suggest a lot of land could be fallowed next year. While dairymen, facing cuts in milk values of around 20% are, unfortunately, unable to fallow their cows, so have to either continue production or get out as soon as possible.
There is a limited but quite strong market for good milking cows in spite of the falling milk price. Where demand is stronger appears to be from the TB infected South West with producers reinvesting TB compensation money.
Most milk buyers appear unable to handle the spring flush and several are starting to word their new contract terms strongly in their favour to cover this phenomenon, while increasingly devaluing returns and producers’ confidence.
Meanwhile, as I repeat regularly, so called spring water sells for up to twice the cost of milk! Perhaps if Highland Spring took over Muller Wiseman things would improve? Three months ago milk, at around 33 to 35 pence per litre, was returning a small profit, and yet within perhaps 12 weeks, as the main world buyers have pulled back, that became 27 to 29ppl – and for some a lot less. Russia’s tit for tat sanction against Europe’s cheese imports has perhaps been exaggerated by buyers to justify the cuts.
Yes, really, it’s a mess. Lots of farmers across Europe will be forced out of business, yet in time markets will swing. Grain stocks will fall. Milk over production will return closer to balance and prices will rise before the whole cycle starts again. The same thing has been happening since 1993/94 with milk, as with the eternal pig cycle of boom or bust. Herds of 150 have become 300 to 600 head herds and the milky spring period, which buyers don’t appear capable of handling, takes them almost totally by surprise year after year.
As a result, many producers are now being asked to produce the same levels of milk every week of the year, as though we can simply turn taps on and off. Do we just cull cows when we exceed our quota and then buy in extra ones when we are short? Do we risk buying in every disease, including TB, we have spent our farming lives trying to overcome? It will certainly backfire on many buyers when things do improve in dairying. So now, Ms Truss, is it really such a surprise that many have gone for solar farms?
With Christmas around the corner here’s a blast from the past. For years, when asked by my wife about breakfast, I say: “Full fried please – the whole lot.” Then, with tongue in cheek, “and crow.” As wartime kids we used to live on such delicacies.
Annually, a week or so before the holiday, our local slaughterman/butcher, Walter Staff, called in secrecy to butcher, illegally, the annual fat Christmas pig which was then quietly shared around family and farm staff. All great food but my very favourite was the scraps, the edible off cuts, meat, fat and offal, thrown into a pot, boiled down and hung for a few days from a beam, in a muslin cloth, to drain off fat and set. Later the bag was removed and this ball of tasty delicacies, about the size of a football, was ready to be sliced and eaten cold.
What food that was. We called it scraps, because that’s what it was; yet food for kings. Sometimes the crow, which attached the kidneys, was separated and fried, like a crispy thin rasher, with bacon and eggs. I remember it, along with the smell of saltpetre, curing hams and bacon sides, like it was yesterday.
It will soon be the start of another new year and we will all be hoping things improve. So let’s get through Christmas with that distant prospect as our wish for 2015. Unfortunately it is out of our hands. Nevertheless I wish you all a healthy, drier (after over 40 inches so far this year) and better new year. Even some crow – what an optimist!