Eyes to the skies as summer backlog of work grows

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IS THERE light at the end of the long tunnel? As I write this, we are expecting a change as the ‘Jet Stream’ moves further north.

As we all look towards the sky, this cannot come soon enough, with the south of the country waiting to start harvest, it will take a few days to dry the land, enabling combines to travel, trailers to carry grain and baling equipment to bale the straw; vital feed and bedding which I amongst thousands of other farmers are waiting for and hoping that it can be baled dry.

It’s too much to hope that the quality will be that good, but you never know.

I am anxious to start tackling the backlog of work, get cows and young-stock out, make second cut silage, and so on.

The cows have been bedded on hay for the last week as we could not get any straw, and I thought they would eat the hay and spoil their diet and milk production.

They haven’t eaten much of it, although it is nice hay and a real shame to use it for bedding, but they have eaten enough to drop production by a litre a day, as hay is far lower in value than our silage.

Cost of production this summer is very high indeed, cows in, feed prices still rising, all the straw (and hay!) for bedding, scraping yards, bedding cows in cubicles on paper and on-going costs of all the extra work.

Heifers are all in too apart from the one group running with the bull, which does minimise damage to the fields, but the grazing paddocks are a mess now, with long grass which has been grazed very badly in these conditions and grown on to be neither grazing nor silage.

If and when it dries up we will need to cut these paddocks, silaging the best but just mowing the rest to re-set the grass for grazing; that will mean starting the grazing ‘wedge’ again as all the paddocks are in the same condition and growth stage, and this will be the third time we will have established a grazing round (if indeed it happens at all).

The milk price battle continues, with Minister Jim Paice making little headway in the ‘Voluntary Code’, and makes his frustrations very public.

This is no surprise as the processors led by Mr Jim Begg Director General of Dairy UK has no interest in anything other than maintaining status quo and talk of the global market now that it has fallen; he used to conveniently ignore it last year when it was at an all-time high and our prices did not reflect those high prices.

In the meantime his members carry on regardless, rewarding themselves for failure in the same way as bankers have been criticised for doing.

Public figures made available for Mr Mark Allen for example CEO of Dairy Crest. He has been paid for a drop of 12% in shares in twelve months; first ever pre-tax loss for the year, writing off £71 million in goodwill of their dairy business and so on; £512,000salary, £109,000 pension contribution, £283,000 bonus, making the total £904,000.

His fellow senior directors were rewarded in a similar fashion, and other dairy companies will be along the same lines.

Given that they are presiding over such a mess, destroying the dairy farming sector in this country, pushing farmer’s way below cost of production in the price they pay at the farm gate for milk, it is little wonder that we are up in arms.

They carry on, totally disconnected from the real world, seemingly unaware of the changes which have taken place and the public’s outrage at rewards for failure.

Farmers are out on the streets, demonstrating outside the three major retailers which do not pay a proper price for milk, Morrison’s, Asda, and the Co-op.

These companies are putting up prices a little to show willing (and get off the hook), but it is a gesture, and not the change in practice which we are after. I do think that there is enough fear, anger and frustration this time to make a difference; bring the industry to a point where a fundamental change in practice takes place.

August the 1st is not far away, and the clock is ticking; there is little time left for retailers that do not pay a proper price and processors, to put things right. We have the TV celebrity chefs on our side now too, and an excellent campaign which is gathering real momentum .

Jim Paice and his (coalition) government find it hard to legislate; they claim that de-regulation is in their ‘DNA’. Well of course, duplication, red tape for the sake of it, stifling enterprise and businesses is not wanted, but government does have a responsibility to protect the weak, and it has an overall responsibility to look after its citizens.

Things have also changed of course, and no regulation leads to abuse and foolhardiness in some cases as we have seen with banks; the general public in these times of hardship and austerity have a different take on regulation, compared to the care free days of booming economy and good times, when unleashing business to produce the goods seemed a more palatable option.

Exposed as a mirage, the boom is now a long drawn out bust, a struggle to make ends meet for many, and our perspective has fundamentally changed.

We now know that corruption crept into our country, albeit on a smaller scale than most others, but we fear it, and rightly so.

Even ordinary, well respected people think it right to claim damages at the slightest hint of an opportunity. Lawyers make a fortune out of it, but an example of a culture that produces nothing, lowers our moral centre of gravity, and costs us all dearly in our insurance premiums.

Newspapers and the media alert us to the high level corruption, and the high profile corruption, however small; MP’s expenses got down to a ridiculous level of minutiae for example, but the low level corrosive cheating that could be described as acceptable behaviour is a real danger.

Putting Civil Servants on short term contracts and paying them bonuses in order to change behaviour to a more ‘commercial’ or ‘business’ footing is the sort of thing; which through a combination of fear (not having contract renewed) and greed (attractive bonus) in the least pernicious sense, will undoubtedly change behaviour.

Do we want out Civil Service to change from wise, independent counsel? Do we want our civil servants to have one eye on contract termination and the other on a bonus, when advising Ministers, working on policy, drafting our interpretation of Brussels directives and advisory notes?

We have politicians in power who think that the private sector has the answer to all our ills, desperate to encourage it to lead us out of recession.

The trouble is many of our politicians, indeed, most of our senior politicians in charge of the country have not lived and worked in the real world; they have little experience of anything outside politics; the private sector and its mistakes.

To believe that the private sector has all the answers, that it can singlehandedly pull us out of recession and take over most other tasks which are currently done by the state is foolhardy. The private sector has a vital role to play, but it must be trusted and if necessary regulated. Maintaining a free enterprise economy is a balance, which government must strike.

Gwyn Jones