Talk about jobs for the boys (and girls). Back in March we had a missive from the county council enclosing a section 289 Highways Act 1980 notice of intention to survey our land. This is the sort of thing most farmers/ landowners are quite wary of.
The purpose, strange as it may seem, was to announce upcoming visits to “all bodies of water adjacent” to a proposed new cycle path, along a newly opened road (some 400 metres away) searching the water “within 500m of the paths’ line” for great crested newts, adders and bats and other creatures they were able to identify. It crossed my mind that as our land and wildlife has evolved here under my family’s management for the past 170 years, it was pretty unlikely anything now proposed would improve the conditions for any resident species.

So when two lady surveyors turned up one morning I took them to the areas in question and enquired of their real intentions because, as suggested above, we farmers are ourselves somewhat protective regards our land. And, given the distance of the proposed cycle path/road (for which a similar environmental survey had been carried out in the past eight or nine years) I didn’t quite follow what was to be gained.

I asked them what they would do if they found any of the aforementioned creatures. To my surprise one of them said, with a straight face: “Oh we will catch them up in bottle traps and remove them.” Yes, true: at that stage I pointed out if these creatures were found, and chose to live here now, why disturb them?

I also pointed out we had adders and grass snakes in residence, along with a rare bat, in addition to pipistrelles, which were regularly killed (against all European Union rules) by barn owls during the breeding season. So what, I asked, would they do about that?

Their answers were quite vague but my impression grew this was yet another glorious way to waste rates and create pseudo employment, just to comply with some fancy, probably EU inspired, environmental project that brought absolutely no benefits to the community. In fact almost certainly doing more harm than good to the creatures they were purporting to protect.

It was 5 April before we had enough grass cover to get the cows outside despite concerns some ground was going to get hammered by their hooves. So we didn’t really know whether to pray for much needed warm rain to get some growth or for some warm drying sunshine. In the end we got a mix of both. But such is the ever dropping milk price, the cows should all be dried off for the summer.

Unfortunately, although stock farmers are able to save costs here and there, certain suppliers across the industry seem not to realise it is their own ever rising bills which are in fact contributing to hurt the dairy job, and eventually their own jobs too.
Now the grass is growing we can control some feed inputs by shaving something off fertiliser use. We can also save a bit on sprays and topping meadows. But there are just some service providers who seem determined to maintain their own margins while driving hard pressed dairy producers to and over the edge.

Vets bills are of course absolutely unavoidable, as most farmers these days care for their stock like family. Less so dairy engineers. Since there is little regional competition these days, many costs relative to current milk prices are absurdly high – literally twenty first century service costs and twentieth century milk prices. Two years ago milk prices allowed the figures to stack up, but not so today. I hope they will learn, before it’s too late.

Luckily a great deal of routine work on the robots can be managed in house by Simon and Emma, which saves a lot but, when an engineer is required with some complex job, one almost needs to ring the bank for an overdraft extension! As a result we have identified several alternate sources for some items, because using kosher spares for everything would be terminal.

The most helpful sector still appears to be the feed merchants who, as they have through the ages, with their famous merchant credit, strive to help the really struggling farmers. Yet that only works if the farmers can repay their carried over debts. Banks too appear largely accepting of the situation. But for how much longer can the industry stand this?

Last month brought us another hiccup. A call from Animal Health (on, of all days, 1 April) said a cull cow sent off at the end of March was reported by the abattoir to have “suspicious TB type lesions” so we would be “shut down” immediately. Just the news one needs. Offering the comment “But the abattoirs do make mistakes,” the DEFRA vet then offered me the choice of challenging the initial diagnosis. But, as we have to pay the testing fees, I thought it better to let the Rural Payment Agency pay the costs.

The cow was, as all ours are, home bred, so we won’t have to look far for the culprits if we get any failures. Brock is increasingly numerous around us now, so, if the cow did have genuine TB lesions, what chance of getting the whole herd through clear? Not high I fear, so again all our neighbouring herds within three kilometres will presumably get closed too, as we all were last year by a breakdown in a neighbouring beef shed. Where will this ever end one wonders, without some strong actions by our indecisive government. Bring back Owen Paterson.