Bad news as agriculture is demoted by Government

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What a lovely week we had and I missed out. We were set to mow grass silage on Tuesday, cut Northchapel maize on Thursday and pick up the grass on Friday.

I would have reversed that and picked the grass up on the glorious Thursday and cut maize on Friday, but none of it happened as the Ag-Bag contractor was not available.

That is the first time it has happened and it was a great shame, but Glebedales have been cutting other people’s maize and we watched as the weather deteriorated over the weekend.

So I am in the same position as I was last week which is not good, but hopefully the weather will pick up again and we can get on with cutting the rest of all our maize; several hundred acres in all.

However, compared to German shepherds in Bavaria, who were surprised by the early arrival of significant falls of snow last week and -11c temperatures, we have nothing to complain about.

I lost an in-calf heifer on Saturday morning, no sign of any problems but could it have been acorn poisoning after the heavy rain overnight? They have plenty of grass, but together with eating large quantities of oak leaves, it does pose a risk and I can’t think of any other reason.

Nothing worse than finding a dead young animal, especially outside and on grass where one feels there should be no reason for it, but in reality the risk is as great if not greater than when they are inside.

The heifer which ate the poisonous plant in the spring seems fine, but still has the bald patches where her skin peeled off, but the hair is slowly growing back.

The big shed has been finished this weekend, devoid of cubicles and scraper passages, it looks much bigger and lighter, but of course we will not get nearly as many cows in there on straw yards.

They do look comfortable though, and hopefully they will all benefit from better comfort and spend more time lying down; the flip side will be the mastitis challenge and that is something we will need to be very mindful of.

Only one more shed to go before we are fully housed on straw yards, and the logistics of mucking all these sheds out within a 3 week period through the winter is something I am currently working on.

My fellow farmers look on with a mixture of astonishment and amusement, given that most dairy farmers these days have moved from straw yards to cubicles and paying for it with the savings in straw over one or a maximum of two years.

We installed cubicles when we first built the dairy in 1983, and have expanded with more cubicles since then.

Our new shed built 5 years ago however was left as open yards to provide straw muck for the planned Anaerobic Digester and now we need more; a lot more.

I like statistics and I saw some figures for 2012 which show that UK farming had 5.36 million cattle, 15 million sheep, 4 million pigs, and 118 million poultry. We farm 75% of the country’s surface, 3.8 million Hectares of arable crops, 128,000 Ha of fruit and vegetables, and 103, 000 Ha of potatoes.

The average farm is 50 Hectares, there are 307,000 of us working on the land, we bought 14,000 new tractors and 1140 new combines last year, and the engineering sector in agriculture is worth 4 billion. Who says that we are not important to the UK economy?

On the European front we have less cattle than France and Germany, more sheep than anybody (Spain second), less poultry than France and Germany, but our pig sector is 9th due to the tough times and leading on welfare initiatives which exported a large chunk of our industry to those who could produce cheaper, and now planning problems for large modern units.

Overall we punch above our weight on the livestock front given that our country is half the size of France and Spain and much smaller than Germany, and of course with beef and lamb we are known for very high quality and high welfare pigs and poultry.

No sooner than I commented on our politicians last week than the knives came out! I was pleased to see Mary Creagh replaced by Maria Eagle, which should at least give the Labour party some credibility, but worried when David Cameron replaced Environment and Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon with George Eustice MP for Camborne and Redruth, a renowned Eurosceptic and very much on the right of the Conservative party; an obvious sop to backbenchers in an attempt to neutralise the UKIP effect.

On the bright side George Eustice is a farmer’s son, a fierce critic of retailers who exploit farmers, and is a strong supporter of the need to tackle bTB.

But the real shock was to see Minister for Agriculture David Heath sacked by Nick Clegg (does anyone understand what this man does?) after only a year in the job, where all the effort of getting him to understand all the issues are now wasted and in fairness he had made a fair fist of it.

His replacement Dan Rogers is another Cornish MP and again a supporter of the need to tackle bTB, but he and George Eustice come in as under parliamentary secretaries of state, which leaves DEFRA without an Agricultural Minister of state.

Demoting agriculture is not good news and there are whispers that Secretary of State Owen Paterson had an interest in taking over more of agricultural role.

We will see, but the overall effect is to demote agriculture within government; it leaves two new Ministers who need to get to grips with their brief, and of course the industry and its representatives the task of getting to know these new faces.

As the debate over badger numbers in the cull areas occupies newspaper inches, we see more and more people beginning to make their voices heard on the bTB issue. Rosie Woodroffe, a badger ecology expert and senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London, speaking at their conference last week stated that we cannot tackle the disease without culling, and that culling over a sustained period of four to five years can work, as it did in New Zealand with possums.

Meanwhile the Chief Veterinary Officer in Wales Christianne Glossop warned that it is too simplistic to believe badger vaccination alone would rid the UK of bTB. ‘We cannot just vaccinate our way out of this problem, we need to exploit every tool in the box’ she told the Zoological Society of London Conference last week.

She said cage trapping and vaccination in Wales is costing £600 per badger which amounted to a million pounds a year for the government.

She is appealing again to the RSPCA, National Trust, Badger Trust and Save Me, to provide funding in order to roll out the vaccination programme.

No one has yet put their hand in their pocket.