Well, what can I say. Lockdown has been such a roller coaster. “Shall we go out for supper?” we ask, pretending for a few seconds that we are discussing whether or not we should go to our local pub, our favourite treat, and have supper with friends. Of course, the question is really establishing if we should eat in the kitchen or outside in the garden.
I’ve enjoyed so many aspects of it. The home schooling aspect has now formed part of our daily routine. The children are marvellous at sitting down by 8.10am to register and they have virtual lessons throughout the day. It’s an amazing sight to see all the children in their virtual classroom and I don’t believe lockdown has disrupted their education at all. The schools should be commended for the effort they have put in to ensuring the children do not suffer. No school run is really quite appealing and the extra time in the day is amazing.
Who would have thought that we could accomplish so many jobs in a day? We have all had to adapt to a completely different lifestyle and I believe we have risen to the challenge admirably. Life has certainly been simpler, the distractions have been far less, no reps, no cold calling which in many aspects has meant less spending. We have all reflected on the pace of life that had become the normal to us, and I’m determined that when we are allowed “back out” we shall be very careful not to get sucked into the rat race again.
The quality family time has been fantastic. Having said that, I do miss my family and friends immensely. Virtual evenings on Zoom/Messenger/Skype have become commonplace in our household. Pony club has been holding virtual quizzes and close family friends have had virtual dinners together. We have sat down together every single night to eat our dinner as a family. The basket in the kitchen is for all phones and we have a no device policy at the table. The only exclusion to this rule is you may answer the phone if the cows are out.
We have been for lots of bike rides around the farm and we all count ourselves to be incredibly fortunate to live in the countryside where we have acres in which to play. I don’t believe we have had time to be bored. It’s been a huge team effort in all areas of our life.
The money that we’ve saved on diesel seems to have been spent on the weekly shopping bill. Who knew that boys eat so much? Three meals a day is never enough for them. The kitchen doesn’t seem to have any down time. Ted has become a feral child who doesn’t ever want to come inside unless bribed with watching You Tube clips on cattle loading in America. He can’t seem to grasp why the others are studying in their bedroom and he can’t interrupt. Zara’s ponies are as fit as they’ll ever be and are still hopeful to go eventing at some point this year. Fergus’ horse will hopefully be in foal. Although if I see another cake that the children have made, I may scream.
I have huge admiration for all the key workers, especially the frontline workers. Shopkeepers, dustmen, pharmacists, taxi drivers, farmers, farm workers, tanker drivers etc – the list is endless, but they have all put their lives at risk on a daily basis for us to be able to function. We have certainly been the lucky ones at home or isolating in our tractors.
The campaign to recruit 80,000 workers to pick fruit appeared to fail miserably. Britons are very quick to condemn farmers for employing foreign labour but it would appear they are not as quick to volunteer their services. I have recently read an article from a farmer that employed 50 furloughed British citizens to pick asparagus. He has seven left so far. The job description said that you needed to be fit and that it wasn’t like working in an office. You have to work outside in all weathers and need a good standard of manual dexterity.
For this farmer in particular, his usual workforce of 150 people in picking season has diminished to 76; the majority of these are Romanians who were here before lockdown. Some crops will be left to rot on the field if they cannot find more staff. This is just the beginning of the picking season, berries and strawberries will follow shortly and the lack of capable labour will present an even bigger issue.
The dairy industry would appear to be in the middle of its own crisis at the present time. Images of farmers dumping milk hit the headlines at the beginning of the month. Some dairy processors halted collections as the UK lockdown obliterated sales from the food service sector. The sight of fresh milk going to waste at the same time supermarket shelves sat bare struck a chord with many people.
The two biggest buyers of organic milk in the UK, Pret a Manger and McDonalds, had also closed their doors. As devastatingly wasteful as this might be, dumping two days’ worth of milk won’t bankrupt a farm, but a year of milk prices being well below cost of production may well.
In many ways the pandemic has highlighted the deep cracks and shallow margins that have plagued the dairy industry for decades. Currently the ex-farm milk price for some farmers is lower than it was in 1995. This is despite 25 years of inflation pushing up the costs of many goods and services by about 70%.
Supermarket price wars over time have consistently depressed the value placed on milk and at the same time the supply chain has consolidated with now 90% of milk processed and sold by just seven companies. This places the milk sector largely in the hands of milk processors and retailers.
Such power in so few hands is bad news for the primary producer. As a processor, why would you pay 22ppl for milk off farm when you can buy it from the “spot market” delivered in for 5ppl. It must be tempting to have a convenient breakdown at the “factory” preventing any intake from farms.
Following crisis talks with the Government and industry the environment secretary George Eustice has supposedly relaxed competition laws between processors to allow collaboration. This is a short-term measure; in the longer term the industry needs public shock at images of wasted milk to be converted into a willingness to pay more for food. I wish I had the answers to solve the issues the dairy industry continues to face.
I do hope that all our readers stay safe and well.
As the children keep saying: “See you on the other side.”