Is it possible that at last we could possibly be about to get some dry weather? Like most farmers I spend more time looking and listening to weather forecasts than I do to the news.
Well, I have to say I have just about had my fill and despair about ‘horsegate’, the threatened mansion tax, Chris Huhne, the chronic ills of the NHS and the neglect of the elderly and the sight of vacuous ‘celebrities’ adorning our screens and newspapers.
A very real and immediate concern is whether the fields will dry sufficiently to allow spring crops to be sown for this year’s national harvest. It is a worry to hear many farmers even now considering leaving fields fallow until the autumn as fields remain waterlogged.
I continue to be hopeful that ground conditions will improve enough to get our spring barley and field beans planted but there is absolutely no point in drilling unless conditions are suitable. Growing crops is an expensive business and unless we can guarantee a reasonable yield economics must dictate our actions.
With less than 50 per cent of arable crops planted last autumn it goes without saying there will be a grain shortage in the UK this summer even if we do all manage to sow the seeds over the coming weeks.
The other concern must be the impact upon our ability to produce food as hundreds of acres of valuable farmland are stealthily being covered in solar panels. At a time when food security is an increasing concern, Natural England, the CPRE and other organisations whose purpose is to preserve our green and pleasant land, should surely be raising questions about plans to cover thousands of acres of prime farmland with these ghastly panels.
As recently reported in the Farmers Weekly, Tim Benton professor of population ecology and food security at Leeds University, warned the Sentry conference at Newmarket Racecourse that farmers must take care of their land which is a precious food producing resource.
As the UK economy stagnates and others, such as China are growing fast, he said we cannot rely on being rich enough to import our food in the future. He insisted that we should consider more diversification and mixed production. I certainly did not read into his words that solar panels would enhance our ability to put food on the nation’s table.
Open any farming magazine and you will see a rash of advertisements including acres of testimonials from Solar Panel companies such as M3 Solar, BeBa Energy UK and My Planet Ltd to name but a few, offering packages including free electricity to run all manner of rural and farm businesses plus income from feed in tariffs into the National Grid.
It does of course make sense if the business plan is acceptable and if the panels can be placed appropriately on existing roofs such as Ashford Market and as many farmers, businesses and householders have already done, but to cover thousands of acres as planned across the countryside with unsightly panels, is disproportionate and unacceptable.
It is also concerning that the current breed of solar panels which are popping up all over the place, have already been superseded by a new breed of panel which have been developed and already produced in Germany.
These are more efficient, are a fraction of the size and light years ahead of the now old technology which is being marketed in the UK. So before too long, similar to the inefficient and outdated wind turbines which are springing up across the country and along our coasts, they too will all too soon end up as rusting relics of a useless and expensive experiment, evidence of the vanity, ignorance and gullibility of politicians.
Renewable energy is important and necessary as global resources of fossil fuels inevitably decline. There are many efficient systems which are practical; many are based in urban conurbations and serve a dual purpose incorporating waste disposal. It is essential that further research and development is funded by government, they should not rely upon advice from the companies which of course need to market products in which they have invested heavily despite already being out dated.
The EU has a history of not wanting the UK to produce food, a policy which Agriculture Ministers, most notably Margaret Beckett, were all too keen to endorse, and one which would leave us vulnerable and in due course hungry.
Urban creep into the green belt is inevitable as our increasing population requires housing, we must however not forget that good productive farmland is a valuable asset which we should treasure, and let us hope upon which we can soon venture to get our crops planted after the wettest winter on record.