Uplifting view of young commitment and ethics

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The cold rain last week stopped all operations and did little good to be honest, what was really needed was some warm showers and not the wintery drizzle which fell.

We still have no grass growth despite a couple of sunny days, although the wild birds tell me with a rather hushed dawn chorus that spring is coming despite winter’s reluctance to let go.

We have had a student from Plumpton College helping us whilst George went back to Bulgaria for a fortnight’s holiday. Jack Woodward stayed with us and started each morning at 4am without fail, spending many hours with Adrian in the milking parlour. It is uplifting to meet young people who want to get into dairy farming and are willing to put in the hours and commitment. We should be careful not to discourage them by talking down the industry; there are still many opportunities in dairy farming and Jack has the right attitude to succeed.

All farms are organic, but some are more organic than others! Conventional farmers are looking to cut costs as inputs become more and more expensive, and I was interested to see that the ‘Soil Association’ is to set up a special Future Farming programme, where organic and conventional farmers can share best practice and collectively look at ways of becoming less dependant on oil based inputs such as fertilizer.

I am encouraged by this as I have always maintained that there are lessons we can learn from the Organic sector, soil management and nutrients in particular. We never stop learning, and as margins are squeezed mercilessly by rising costs, it makes sense to share knowledge and expertise.

No columnist can fail to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher last week: ‘A towering political figure’ said Ed Milliband, who went on to say that the Labour party disagreed with much that she did. She divided opinion in agriculture just as she did up and down the country.

Farmers agreed with many of her core values, but found the damage she did in Europe less than helpful, and although in principle producing to real markets is the only way to survive in the long term, many of our markets are dominated by small numbers of large players and as dairy farmers are stunned at the threat to cut milk prices for cheese, it is clear that some markets are still not operating as they should.

Those who chose to celebrate her death, holding raucous and violent parties, makes one realise how appalling people can be, and how right she was to take on that reckless, selfish and irresponsible arrogance.

Few of us would agree with everything any politician does when in power, they make mistakes like the rest of us and there are always unintended consequences, but when a Prime Minister turns the country around in three terms of office, the effect of tough policies and any mistakes will be bigger and more keenly felt.

When her ideology is diametrically opposed to what went before and her conviction absolute; as she won through, her enemies and opponents were crushed and are hurting to this day.

If she was so terrible, why did the country vote Conservative again when her successor John Major went to the poles? Neil Kinnock had changed the Labour Party after bitterly fought internal battles, but we all remembered the Labour legacy at that time and after all the suffering under Margaret Thatcher as she brought wholesale change to the country, we were not about to take risks with our future.

Not until Tony Blair took a very different approach did the country feel able to trust the Labour Party with power, and he subsequently held office almost as long as Thatcher did. His successes and mistakes are with us today.

I was an apprentice engineer in 1970 and had first hand experience of Trade Unions and how they operated, the power they had not only with management, but over individuals; a ‘closed shop’ meant that if you were not a union member you had no job. The corrosive way men became obsessed with their ‘rights’, where as in fact they were doing less and less work for more and more money.

I remember how the men on ‘piece-work’ stood out from the rest, simply because they were busy all day, well rewarded for their efforts, given that the standard rate of work on which piece-work was based was so poor. I experienced the ‘walk-out’ when Union officials in the factory did not get their way over some petty or unreasonable demand, we had strikes, work to rule, hours wasted on the shop-floor with men standing idle for hours whilst ‘negotiations’ too place. Work seemed to be something which took place in the absence of some dispute or other.

Many years later, in the year before Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister in fact; back in agriculture I moved to Moulton College of Agriculture to run the beef and sheep units and teach students practical tasks. Much to my surprise I was approached by an individual who announced himself as the Trade Union representative, and informed that I was to join up along with everyone else.

I discovered that not only were all other workers on the three farms members, but he had recruited the part-time cleaners at the College as members too, giving himself some political clout which he relished. I refused to join and I became an instant enemy of his, and we had some rather serious clashes as he took every opportunity to make a nuisance of himself, and get in my way.

The trade Union in question was NUPE, those responsible for the rubbish piling up in the streets and dead bodies not being buried at the time; those who should bear a great deal of responsibility (alongside others) for bringing Margaret Thatcher to power!

NUPE was on strike for the umpteenth time over ‘pay and conditions’, and our little representative was standing at the entrance to the dairy farm with a placard! Not one of his ‘members’ joined him out of embarrassment, but the tanker driver was a union member and was told that this was an official picket line and he was not to cross it.

Given that the driver was a union man, subjected to the corrosive influence I described earlier, he turned around and our milk was not collected that day. Our little representative went home, genuinely thinking that he had done some good that day; I found that quite frightening.

Those days are long forgotten by many, but they should not be. Of equal if not greater importance than Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, we should remember and study the period which led to her election and what took place in those heady days of beer and sandwiches in Number 10, where Trade Union leaders called the shots, and weak government was powerless to resist.

‘Who runs this country?’ asked Edward Heath. ‘Not you’ was the reply at the ballet box. The country did not believe he and his government could win a battle with the Unions, and Labour was returned to power, for the simple reason that they would settle strikes with money and the lights would be back on again. Over the few years which followed, even the Labour Party became exasperated and could do nothing with this monster. Cometh the hour…….and the rest is history.

Gwyn Jones