Desperate for some sunny weather

This weather is really too much! It is making me bad tempered and I am generally pretty happy around spring time, but where is it?

On top of all the misery in agriculture at present as we all grapple with high prices of feed fuel and fertilizer, the weather is preventing us from getting on with spring work and turning cattle out to grass to lower costs, and the arable farmers are tearing their hair out.

The lambs and cattle in Wales are facing bare fields after the frosty winds and things are getting very serious in some parts. Up north and other areas there is deep, drifted snow to contend with, and here in Plaistow we are completely water-logged.

It is the coldest March since 1963 apparently, and it is not going to get much better very soon. I can only hope that we go from winter to summer at Easter Weekend; that would suit everyone.

I read anything and everything I can lay my hands on each week, including Dairy UK Newsletter, and although it makes me cringe I also force myself to read the Director General Jim Begg’s ‘blog’.

This week he surpassed himself in the ‘Jim Begg list of excuses for why we can’t do much in the dairy processing industry’ by admitting that ‘the case for exports is overwhelming and businesses that do export generate more profit than those who don’t’.

He asked ‘Why don’t British dairy companies invest and export more? Well it’s all about the availability of milk; that is the major barrier to change. If a country has competitive, viable, confident farmers, then you have a platform for export growth. If you haven’t, you don’t; simples’.

Here is the man who has presided over the removal of confidence over many years as British dairy farmers were paid a milk price equivalent to Poland, ignoring all the pleas and warnings from all organisations representing the industry.

Now that his members are being taken to task by government and threatened with legislation if they do not make a fist of the NFU’s ‘voluntary code of practice’, he has the gall to blame the beleaguered farmer for not producing enough milk!

There would be even less milk if he had had his way and under his tenure at Dairy UK, processors margins have reduced to almost nothing, not a word was said about retailer pressure over the years and foreign owned companies and Co-ops have had to come in to show how the job should be done.

This is the British car industry all over again, where the workforce seems to miraculously turn out the best cars in the world now that proper investment and management are in place, with companies investing in their suppliers.

I can tell you that there is nothing wrong with the workforce on British farms. Hang your head in shame man!

The Soil Association’s latest report shows organic food sales have fallen again, especially in major retailers which are responsible for the majority of organic sales. The reason for this is very simple, organic food costs more and we are in the grips of recession, add to this that many consumers buy regional foods which deliver most of what organic offers, saving money doing so.

The reaction of the Soil Association was predictable ‘retailers should stock more and then they would sell more’ they said, ignoring the fact that retailers react to shelf space according to how fast the food is sold.

Organic is a niche market, and it over reached itself in the good times when the Soil Association should have bolstered the brand and promoted organic food properly rather than by slating conventional farm food.

There are tough times ahead, and organic food an important niche market which we all value, has a lot of work to do in order to hang on to sales.

I had my seat in front of the television at lunch time last week, waiting for George Osborne to start his budget speech.

He started well; he tried to shout above the bedlam but later had to resort to some water as his larynx failed him.

For a man who was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and generally shuffling very little money around, he was doing a reasonable job of presenting it as a budget for ‘aspirational people who work hard and want to get on’.

As he attacked labour again and again, for ‘the mess they left behind’ he looked like a very frustrated Chancellor who had limited moves available to him, and little money to do anything with.

After he had finished I wondered how Ed Milliband could respond, after all we are all in this together and times are certainly hard, with little or no options?

I was taken aback by the ferocity of Ed’s reply; he really gave the Chancellor a dressing down as he tore into the government over their priorities, their failures and lack of ideas.

David Cameron and George Osborne looked as if they wished they could be somewhere else, and just sat there quietly as Ed read the riot act.

If he had someone else as his shadow Chancellor, he would have a point, but whilst Ed Balls sits there, no one will take lessons from him.

I am now of the view that both the Chancellor and the shadow Chancellor will be moved on before the general election; highly necessary in Labour’s case, and the Conservatives will certainly move Osborne on if he does not deliver in the next 18 months, which I can’t see happening.

The only comment I will make about the budget is the alarm bells which I heard in my own mind when he announced his mortgage subsidy scheme.

Here we have a Conservative party who are keen to impress on us their understanding of markets and finance.

As this column has stated many times, house prices are too high generally, and no amount of patronising nonsense from the likes of Simon Jenkins at the National Trust about children not having the right to live where their parents live, will change that.

We need more houses and if we built them, enough of them, prices would ease and people could afford to buy.

That is what ‘aspirational’ people want, an opportunity to live where their parents live, an opportunity to buy affordable housing in all areas, not just in town.

Instead, it seems government is going to use taxpayer’s money to assist struggling people to buy a share in a house and not need much of a deposit to do so. Have we learnt nothing?

Is this not a way to keep house prices high, unaffordable for many to buy properly on the market, and is it not going to induce another set of problems such as the ones which started the dominoes falling in the current crisis?

Meanwhile we will have country villages as we have today, where only a minority can afford to live; that does not ensure villages with a diverse population, a rich mix of locals and incomers, rural people who understand the countryside living next to those who have rather less understanding.

‘Preserve the area in aspic’ committees will continue to flourish in villages unless there is change and more balance in who lives in them, whilst the government’s plans for the countryside, investment, jobs and infrastructure in the rural economy will stall as they are fought at every turn.

What an own goal!

Gwyn Jones