There are more people looking to work on dairy farms again

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A MUCH gentler week, as things get back to normality on the farm after the snow.

The calf feeding robot is now double insulated against the cold, the burst pipe and boiler leak in the mobile-home has been fixed, and the water troughs in all the sheds and yards are all working properly again.

A great deal of cleaning up has been done in order to get all the concrete clear of all the slush and muck that appears suddenly once the snow melts.

■ Northern New Zealand is suffering a serious drought, with soil moisture available down to 17 per cent; indeed the soil moisture in the pastures of the Waikato province, the main dairy region, are reported to be containing only 20 per cent of the water they should have at this time of year.

In Victoria, Australia however, after a cold and wet start, milk production has now recovered.

I am waiting for a report from Frank Tyndall on the potential locust plague; did the cold, wet weather kill them off?

It does seem that whilst Australia has had higher than average rainfall (589mm in 2010 with the average being 413mm), it has been falling in the East (Victoria 702mm where the average is a mere 499mm and New South wales 735mm where the average is 602mm), whilst in the west there has been a drought.

This matters, because the west coast accounts for 40 per cent of the country’s wheat exports, and the very dry spring has meant that yields are going to be well below average.

The bumper crops in the west offset this problem- until now. The wet weather and difficult harvesting conditions as torrential rain and flooding damages crops, is causing wheat prices to rise dramatically; adding to the global market’s volatility.

Quality is likely to suffer and milling wheat in particular is likely to be hit. Dairy farmers in Australia will be hit by higher feed prices, and the global effect of Australia’s harvest could affect our own feed prices, which are already sky high.

■ We have sold more cows and we are now down to around 400 in the herd; we still have another 100 or so to sell in the New Year before settling down to manage a much smaller unit. Reduced cow numbers have enabled me to change the diet for the milking cows, increasing the grass silage so that we are now feeding the same amount of grass and maize.

This will give the cows more protein and fibre in the diet, making it a better feed for them, a cheaper feed as we can cut back on expensive bought in protein, and at the same time release more maize for the bio-digester.

Two of our Philippino workers have now gone to work on other dairy farms, and the remaining three will leave in January. We will appoint another British herdsman to work with Adrian in the New Year, which will in itself be a very big change; not least for Adrian, who will be able to concentrate on managing the cows once more rather than managing people.

We have had quite a lot of interest in the vacancy, and as I have seen up and down the country, there are more people looking to work on dairy farms again. Is it because of the recession? Is it due to so many dairy farmers giving up? I don’t know, but it is very good news, and given that the government has now severely clamped down on immigrant labour, there will be real difficulty for many dairy farmers for the future, some of which may be alleviated by this change in the labour market.

■ I spoke at a Dairy Conference recently, held by auctioneers up North. The message was ‘We want a positive paper on the future of the dairy industry’. I wrote a very positive paper, citing all the reasons why dairy farming will have good prospects, the need for food, change of government in this country being positive, recognition in EU that more production is desirable, global population and so on.

Two-thirds of the way through the paper, I changed tack, and gave a very direct warning that British dairy farmers are currently denied proper market related returns, and a few things need to change in order to make sure that the market worked for us in this country, otherwise that bright future will be denied.

We had a robust and healthy debate afterwards, where all the current problems of the supply chain not working were given a thorough airing.

I am very clear in my own mind where the problems are and I have no hesitation in stating that very clearly to anyone who will listen.

However, I do not subscribe to the view that everything is doom and gloom.

Yes we have some serious problems within the dairy industry concerning abuse of power by retailers and processors, and a government which wants to see farmers derive their living (as we all do) from markets, will need to assist, but a comment by a gossip commentator in the dairy industry last week, linked my ‘positive’ message about the future of the dairy industry, with the sale of our cattle!

Now if I had thought of that, I could have left out the last third of the speech and had a better sale. Fanciful, but nice to be paid the compliment though.

■ It is NFU Annual General Meeting season, and I get to travel to all parts of the country in the evenings to talk to farmers.

I enjoy this a great deal, and it’s the best way to understand the hopes and concerns, getting valuable feedback from the horse’s mouth as it were. It’s not often that I am lost for words, but I was put on the back foot last week when I was asked the question ‘What is the NFU’s position on tuition fees?’

I had to admit to the meeting that to my knowledge, we do not have a policy on tuition fees, and quickly rehearsed the pro’s and cons of the issue.

The chairman as it happens had very strong personal views on the subject, which happened to be diametrically opposed to the questioner’s own strongly held view.

I was able to sit back and follow this interesting debate as others joined in; I think you call that being let off the hook?

Whatever one’s views on this divisive subject, I thought the Coalition Government passed a very stern test last week, which should strengthen the bond considerably, but the hostility towards the Liberal Democrats following their election pledge is palpable. The trappings of power!