I’ve been checking stock accompanied by my grandsons, who are presently obsessed with dragons, so their integration into today’s livestock care was a necessary inclusion. Programmes have moved on from the Flower Pot Men. For my children it was Postman Pat and his black and white cat.
Today we’ve enjoyed some imaginative dragon hunting which involved changes which made the sheep suspicious, but the cattle were fascinated. We got the job done, and the boys learnt that as farmers there’s a commitment to looking after stock. We also incorporated some bird spotting, including a yellowhammer and admiration of the swallow’s flight. I was happy to have heard the cuckoo this year in early May, not April.
I’m sure Postman Pat made a good job of delivering parcels as well as letters. Surely that’s more environmentally friendly and safer than all these courier vans rushing through our country lanes. With the cost of fuel rocketing, it’s likely the couriers will be less keen to do rural deliveries. There are already reports of care workers saying that they cannot afford to do countryside visits, which is concerning for rural communities.
Our postman mostly delivers mail which ends up in recycling. I don’t want it cluttering up my tidy farmhouse. Incidentally, Mollie (collie pup) has a fetish for toilet paper, which she likes to convert to confetti sized pieces and distribute around the house. Mollie knows I like making confetti from rose petals and is starting up a rival business.
Occasionally we get some exciting mail and I received one such letter while lambing. The envelope was smart, so initially I thought perhaps it might be an invitation to a hotel where they tell you all about making investments and buying expensive funeral arrangements; ‘buy before you die’ type options. They are barking up the wrong tree with us because all our investments are farm-related, and other half always says “bury me in the dung heap”.
Instead, I was delighted when Hazel and I were invited to attend the East Sussex Women of the Year Lunch, which was held in the American Express Community Stadium, Brighton. There were 250 women from all walks of life. For me it was an excuse to get dressed up and enjoy an uplifting experience. The guest speaker was HH Judge Christine Laing QC, whose life story illustrated what can be achieved with determination and belief in yourself.
This event certainly fulfilled its aims of recognising, celebrating and inspiring through women’s achievements. It also raised money for this year’s charitable cause: ‘promoting physical activities for well-being.’ It’s reassuring to know that good news stories still exist.
We also received post that was less pleasing, namely a letter informing us that our farm would be inspected by the Environment Agency. It’s part of modern life and I acknowledge they have a job to do, but for me it brings worry. I find it hard to look at the farm as just a business, because it’s our life’s work, an extension of our home and family. I don’t want to cause harm to our environment; why would I? The practical side of farming takes up a lot of time, and keeping pace with bureaucracy has its challenges. It’s stressful wondering if you’ve crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s to an inspector’s satisfaction. All was well, and the inspector had a good grasp of the problems that farmers face.
I’m not sure I can say the same about Boris’ government; they simply don’t inspire much confidence. The recently released food strategy white paper has objectives that are supposed to deliver “a prosperous agri-food and seafood sector that ensures a secure food supply”. Plus “a sustainable, nature positive, affordable food system that provides choice and access to high quality products that support healthier and home-grown diets for all”.
Fine words; it’s a step forward that our government now acknowledges the importance of home-grown food. But prosperous and affordable might not be quite so easy to achieve with production costs spiraling. A profit margin is essential for any business to survive, and farmers are no exception. No one wants to see food poverty. Some savings could be made by reducing food wastage and a more coherent supply of labour for harvesting would help. Requests for higher wages and rising inflation are already here. My faith in politicians has evaporated, so I hope someone out there has the answer.
The lorry driver who delivered the steelwork for our livestock building told us that his fuel costs rose £20,000 in one month. The cost of that steel rose by 25% in one week. Wealden bin men are striking, wanting a better wage; they will not be the only workers wanting more. If current wages are not covering living costs you can hardly blame them. Future uncertainty will bring challenges. We will need to adapt, but I’m confident farmers will continue to produce food the best way they can. Hopefully our consumers will take more of an interest in how food is produced and appreciate our role in caring for the land.
Heathfield Show gives a good opportunity to connect with urban dwellers and for them to learn more about life in the countryside. For us it was refreshing to be able to get out and about again, meet, greet and catch up with other local farmers and traders. We didn’t find the farmers’ market area, and I wonder if local produce couldn’t be given a more prominent position, perhaps nearer to the eating areas.
It’s always good to view the show stock and appreciate the work that goes into producing them. We weren’t quite so ecstatic about the hour and a half queue to get into the parking fields, but I’m glad the show was well attended. I knew we should have moved the sheep electric fence after the show and not before.
Silaging done and haymaking in full swing, the sun is shining. Grass growth has been good. The cattle look happy. Some lambs are showing early signs of scald in their feet which will need attention. The rhythm of farm life is strangely comforting when you consider what turmoil the world is in.