Farm Diary: Interesting times as fracking and house building loom

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More unsettled weather last week, mainly sunshine but there were showers which freshened things up a bit and kept the grass growing. The buddleia is now in flower and butterflies are everywhere.

It seems to be a good year for butterflies unlike last year, especially cabbage white which are like a cloud above my vegetable patch.

The crows are still a complete pain around the yard and buildings, darkening the sky when they fly over; it’s obviously been a good year for them too!

The building work is progressing with gulley’s and new drains put in for dirty and clean water in order to separate them and cut down on storage.

This coming week we will be moving our first cut silage out of the silage clamp and putting it in ‘Ag-Bags’. The second cut was bagged when harvested, as we knew then that the silage clamps which are old were to be used for other purposes. I hope it will move into bags without too many losses and that once sealed in there will remain stable.

I had an opportunity to inspect my second cut silage the other day when a digger driver swung his bucket against one of the plastic Ag-bags and tore the cover sheet and the bag itself. The silage looks good and twenty minutes with gaffer tape sorted the problem out.

The engineers turned up to fit the new compressor last week and we now have two compressors which work and a system that is full of gas. They stayed overnight in order to flush out the cooling system and it all looks good. Given the distance from Herefordshire and an overnight stay, I look forward to a very large bill, and hopefully many months of reliable milk cooling.

We still need to keep an eye on things and the ice bank should be checked as a matter of routine before each milking. If the ice diminishes and is noticed, that would give us 6 hours or so in hand to call engineers, whereas waiting until there is no cooling makes it an emergency and very risky indeed.

I did a few interviews and took part in a debate on Welsh radio following the comments of Lord Howell of Guilford on ‘fracking’. Given that we are not all that far from Balcombe and that there is interest in drilling at Kirdford just down the road, Welsh media were interested to hear from the coal face (as it were).

You will remember that Lord Howell said that drilling should be focused on ‘uninhabited and desolate areas’ of the north east, and many would no doubt consider parts of Wales to be in that category.

Although we all knew what Mr George Osborne’s father in law meant it was not a wise or politically astute comment to make; furthermore is he right? Should fracking not take place in the areas which use most energy such as the South East? After all the Chancellor said some time ago ‘We are all in this together’.

These are interesting times for the Home Counties; we are facing treasury backed proposals to increase house building, whilst the new High Speed 2 and road building programme threaten more land and landscape, causing Andrew Motion President of Campaign to Protect Rural England, to accuse Mr Osborne of wanting to smear the country in concrete!

Michael Fallon the Business Minister countered that, by suggesting that drilling in the south-east would test the media ‘the beauty of drilling in Hampshire and Sussex and Surrey was that it’s underneath the commentariat, all those people writing leaders saying ‘why don’t they get on with shale’? We will see how thick their rectory walls are; whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive’ he said bravely. Not sure this was any more sensible or helpful than Lord Howell’s comments.

This is a real dilemma; on the one hand we have what seems like a golden opportunity to capitalise on the energy revolution offered by this new technology, but the threat of a very different revolution by the people affected!

I do not consider the full time protesters who have now turned up at Balcombe as relevant, given that they move from one issue to the next and are largely disaffected individuals of one sort or another.

Given that we need energy and that we have failed to prepare for the future as someone somewhere objects to everything and politician frighten easily on the whole; this is a test of strength, resolve and political will. There is an opportunity here to genuinely rebalance the economy, an economy which will depend in the future on the competitiveness of our industries.

It is interesting how George Osborne’s fortunes have changed, he has stuck to his guns and things are improving slowly and he is the dominant figure in government currently. This is not altogether surprising; as Gladstone put it ‘finance is the stomach of the country from which all the other organs take their tone’.

Given that these days any serious environmentalist supports nuclear power, and that it is green energy which is under pressure for not being efficient and cost effective, conceptual changes in attitudes do happen over time and it could be the same with fracking.

If one dismisses the scare stories which are largely untrue other than when cowboy operators were involved in the technology, the only real reason to object to fracking is if it takes place in my back yard or yours. That is a fair and just reason to object, but is usually and quite rightly overruled in a democracy if it is for the greater good despite the cries of local MP’s who would happily support it in someone else’s constituency.

We have had very good support from our local village over the last few years as we built and ran our anaerobic digester, but we upset them this year when we had to use lorries to transport large quantities of slurry and dirty water on to other farms and our outlying maize ground, simply because we had too much of it following last year’s very wet year. People hate lorries although they depend on them every day of the week, and increased transport is the biggest issue with any expansion or new development.

Green energy production now equals nuclear energy in this country and is becoming more efficient as new technology comes on stream, but there is an urgent need for more energy and fracking seems to offer a much quicker and cheaper answer.

Time will tell, but I feel that if this country goes for fracking oil and gas then it should be doe where the reserves are and not only in areas where the population is sparse. This is a matter of collective responsibility and Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire are no different to other counties except for population density and high energy use as a direct result of that. As the Government says, we are in this together – let’s see if that is really true.