Farmers happy with progress but waiting for some tangible results

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AND then it was autumn. Much cooler windy weather and a little rain last week, as the weather reflects the fact that October is not summer after all; the leaves are now changing colour rapidly, led by the hazel, ash and willow.

We foraged the last of the blackberries at the weekend, which were very good following the warm weather at the beginning of the month.

The sloes and crab-apple are plentiful, and only lack of time prevents huge activity, but I have made quite a lot of sloe-gin and some experimental crab-apple liqueur.

The apple pressing is going well, as we become better at blending various varieties for the right balance, as the freezer fills up.

All the maize is harvested clamped, with the lads spending many days sheeting up and dragging heavy sheets to weigh down the plastic.

This is hard work on a good day, but as soon as a roll of plastic is unpacked; the wind gets up and makes it twice as hard. We have made 8,000 tonnes of maize silage this year, the best year we have ever had, and my thanks go to everyone involved; a great effort.

All our harvest (grass and maize silage) is now in, and the cows will be housed for the winter this week, leaving only in-calf and bulling heifers out grazing.

We have grass everywhere, and although the heifers are consuming grass at a phenomenal rate, they will be out until November if the weather and ground conditions allow.

Gwenan has gone off to Australia on holiday for a month to see Elin (her elder sister), and a well earned rest from record-keeping, relief milking and young-stock rearing, although she has taken her lap-top with her and we will email all the births and cattle movements to her!

I’m sure that she will enjoy the spring weather in Sydney, and Elin has a very big programme of activity planned.

It is just so easy to hop on a plane these days, and you spend more time in the airport being frisked than in the plane very often. At least a journey to Australia makes the airport hassle seem worthwhile!

We are now turning our attention to the building work that needs to be done before the end of the month.

We still have half a shed to go in our conversion from old cubicles to straw yard for young-stock, and those heifers will need to come in if it turns wet, so the pressure is on.

We have more heifers to bring over from Tillington as winter approaches, and the end of the grazing season over there, although Gwenan will run one group of young heifers out all winter.

n The Conservative Party Conference last week was pretty average, with a few internal squabbles, and no real message of encouragement for the general public.

Our fringe meeting was very well attended, and the Defra Ministers were given credit for the difficult decisions they have taken, but we told them that we are still waiting for delivery.

We really do need to see some action after 18 months in government, and huge promises made whilst in opposition.

A rather tame protest against badger culling when NFU President Peter Kendall was addressing the meeting was made by an odd looking couple, who really should have put more energy into it after helping themselves to our hospitality beforehand; they were politely ushered out once they had had their chant and displayed their banner.

Otherwise the farmers present were reasonably happy with progress so far, but impatient for tangible results.

There was much discussion about planning and ‘the big society’; CAP and the government’s stance on the UK’s place in Europe, and the burden of red tape.

The present coalition government is very keen to support farmers and agriculture meet the challenge of producing more food, to feed an increasing population in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way.

This was timely, as by the end of this month, the world’s population will hit 7 billion, as it heads towards the expected peak of nine billion by 2050. It took 122 years for the world to double its population from one billion to two billion (1800 – 1920s), but 40 years later we hit three billion, 14 years to four billion, 13 years to five billion, and only 12 years each to reach six and seven billion.

What allowed this acceleration in number? Better housing, more food and clean water, coupled with rapid improvements in public health. Can the planet cope with such an increase?

Opinions differ on this point, but everyone agrees that it needs ingenuity, innovation and science in order to meet the challenge of coping with such numbers.

That is why agriculture is one of the more important areas of concern, as governments around the world look to our industry to deliver.

We need to recognize that we will be affected by what happens in other countries and continents just in the same way as the financial crisis has blighted the economies of so many countries; we do live in inter-dependant times, and as global trade increases, the effects of prosperity and hardship will affect our country as well.

It is therefore of paramount importance, that as this country is projected a population of 70 million by 2020 (14 years time), that we have a competitive, innovative, and thriving agricultural sector.

Being a rich nation, will not necessary guarantee that we can always buy our food elsewhere; indeed we have already seen how the barriers go up in countries where food is suddenly in danger of being in short supply. Government is under pressure right now as the cost of living is increasing, and wages and salaries cannot keep pace due to the economic climate.

That is but nothing compared to the anger which the general public will unleash if a major plank of government responsibility is not properly thought out and is seen to fail. No elected government would survive that.

Two examples of clip-board jockeys this week. A Southampton beurocrat told the public that they were not to forage on the common, as the fruit and berries were needed by wildlife.

Once this story was out, it was not long before a swift apology was issued by the council. The second story involves conkers.

As you may know, an on-going battle each year is fought between health and safety beurocrats who want to see the game of conkers banned; otherwise all participants to wear protective gear whilst more evidence is gathered so that this highly dangerous game (which was first played in 1848 - with no fatalities over the years as far as we know) can be banned.

Last week, the world conker championships held in Northamptonshire since 1965 (with no fatalities as far as we know) has been cancelled due to high wind making the erection of marquees too dangerous!