Hands-on work would be useful for Defra officials

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LAST week was much better than forecasted, and after clamping and sheeting the maize from Tillington and Milford, we cut and clamped a good fourth cut of grass in very good conditions at the weekend.

This grass silage is for the bio-digester, and it will be a very useful tonnage of energy for gas production.

This week we will hopefully clamp the maize up at Ripley, again for the bio-digester, and it will also be a huge crop. Will we ever replicate this year’s maize crop? Maybe, but I doubt we will ever better it.

With this late summer weather, I think the cattle can stay out grazing a little longer, as conditions are very good; long may it last, we deserve an ‘Indian Summer’ after such a wet season?

The trees are changing colour very fast, and the evenings and early morning are much colder, with a mist hanging around, until the sun burns it away.

The lawn is still growing quite fast, and the fruit trees are laden with apples and pears. I have bought a press, which produces many litres of apple juice in a few minutes. What a taste! You cannot buy apple juice like this, and the difference between the various apple types is marked.

There are very large crab apples around this year, and the sloes are plentiful; get the gin out!

The influential EFRA (Environment, food and Rural Affairs) committee has recommended that Defra officials should be sent to work on farms so that they can see first hand the consequences of their policy making.

In a report, the committee states that ‘Officials within Defra and its agencies need to appreciate the impact of regulatory decisions on farming enterprises, particularly small businesses that may be facing other financial pressures or uncertainty’.

The truth is of course that after Labour’s election into power in the late 90s, the old MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food), was merged with the Environment Dept; and only the environmental civil servants survived; at least it was not long before we lost all the experience and knowledge of agriculture.

The word Agriculture did not even feature in the new Department, which since its inception has been poor, even if viewed through rose tinted glasses.

The department has been seen as a bit of backwater, with no high-flying politician wanting to go there.

Margaret Becket was the most disastrous, and her legacy lives on today, with umpteen fines from Brussels for failing to deliver, which has cost millions.

With food security and supply now back on the agenda, it is little wonder that the following statement is made in the report. ‘Defra should consider whether a programme of hands-on experience with farming businesses targeted at the relevant staff, would lead to improved policy making, and how this could be delivered’.

We supply our milk to a major retailer, and they have been very excited about our progress on carbon foot-printing.

Since we built the bio-digester, we have been re-cycling all the farm waste, and utilizing the digestate as fertilizer, which in turn has cut our purchased fertilizer bill by some 60 per cent.

This is really good news for the farm and the economics of running the business, but there are many more aspects to milk production that I personally get much more excited about, such as the cropping, the cows, the performance of the herd, health and welfare of the animals and so on. Should I be more excited about our carbon foot-print?

I confess to being somewhat confused by it all. I see statements telling me how concerned everyone is about the environment, and I am asked to believe that the environment is of greater concern to most consumers now, than it was at the beginning of the recession. Where is the evidence?

I see Tesco launching a huge price war, right now; a £500 million price drop campaign. How does that fit? 3,000 items slashed this week, as the giant retailer hits back at its competitors, in an ‘indefinite’ battle. Last week, farmers were shocked at the return of a £2 chicken in Tesco; our poultry men see this as the wrong message in terms of value of British chicken. What will consumers think?

The hard hit consumer, according to a survey by ‘The Grocer’ magazine, doesn’t think too hard about the environment, with 55 per cent not considering the environment at all when shopping.

Is this suprising? Well not really, we have known for a long time that what the consumer says and what the consumer does or buys, are often very different, especially when times are hard.

The business community is doing its bit, with great success actually, and has government on its back, driving for results. Does Government play its part?

Not very well actually. From mixed messages on green energy to companies and farmers, and it’s nervous, hesitant, divided approach to bio-fuels and bio-gas as a typical example of muddled thinking and lack of resolve, to waste and re-cycling.

How many times have your efforts to separate your waste been thwarted by lack of infrastructure, and all your bins were emptied into the same truck?

Government is forever challenging industry to do more and to do it better, whilst its own local authorities are in the main pretty hopeless at providing a proper service.

Government has hit out at industry over the £12 billion food waste mountain, with Defra proposing to introduce a less confusing ‘best before’ label, but the Food and Drink Federation has responded fiercely, with Melanie Leech Director General stating that they found the lack of leadership from Defra ‘exasperating’, and with serious progress being made to reduce waste by the industry, having halved food waste to land-fill already, and on target to achieving zero land-fill waste by 2015, but a distinct lack of co-ordination, leadership and reliance on the industry to provide government policies by Defra, is hampering progress.

As a matter of interest, if we fed all the food waste this country produces to pigs, that would result in 80,000 tonnes of pig meat; more than ten per cent of our needs.

But of course we don’t do that any more, rational thought has been banished by fear, especially of the media.

I shall not be expecting more than platitudes in Liverpool, when attending the Labour Party Conference.

It seems that they are still a long way from providing credible opposition, never mind leadership or meaningful policies.

I understand that the Post Office is changing all its delivery routes, and we could be losing our friendly post lady (I must ask her the next time I see her).

Apparently they are introducing computer modeling to work out the most effective way of delivering the post.

I can hardly believe that this is true; as such modeling has been in common use for decades. What is the job of the Post Office? Delivery.

Are they really only introducing such technology now? It’s like discovering the abacus when everyone else has a pocket calculator! Please tell me it’s not true.

Gwyn Jones