Farmers on warpath as rain ruins it all

I have now given up watching weather forecasts – too depressing. As I move 50 heifers and the bull, from one sodden field to the next, it is only a matter of time before they too will have to be yarded and if it wasn’t for the fact that I want them all in calf before I do that; they would have been in already. The land at Crouchlands is as wet as it ever gets in winter, and only the grass keeps the animals on top of the clay, which only lasts a few days, leaving quite a mess to sort out one day. We exceeded our annual rainfall at the beginning of this month, so I can only hope that there is a dry spell coming, and we need it soon in order for the cereal harvest to get going and I can at least have decent straw for the winter. 2012 will surely be remembered as the long winter; as we have not had a summer and it’s too late for that now?

Some farmers are talking of mowing their barley crop, as it is ready and there is no chance of travelling on the land with a combine; in South Wales farmers are cutting grass in the pouring rain for silage, having given up on the weather. The grass must be cleared so that aftermath is there for the lambs; lambs who are just not growing well in this cold wet weather, full of sodden grass, with lameness a serious problem in these conditions. Our own second cut needs to come off in the next week or so, but how we do that without wrecking the fields I don’t know. The cows are oblivious to all this, happy in their hotel, looking out at the rain and these sodden servants splashing around, seeing to their every need. Cows don’t ‘do’ stress do they?

3000 dairy farmers turned out for the dairy meeting in Westminster last Wednesday, addressed by the farming unions and a very brave Minister; Jim Paice. When you think how few of us dairy farmers there are and how difficult it is for many to leave the farm, travel across country to London; it just shows how bad things are. With costs rising steeply, and the drought in various parts of the world about to push feed prices even higher, fertilizer and diesel prices etc.; add to that poor silage quality with many yet to make anywhere near enough, cows in eating their heads off, a maize crop that looks dire in this dreadful weather, to cut milk prices by 4ppl will be the end for many. They spelt that out loud and clear for Jim Paice, who is knowledgeable and a friend of the industry, but like any politician reluctant to do much.

What can he do? Well he can legislate on contracts for a start, also create a climate where farmers can get together and form Producer Organisations to supply liquid milk in this country. He himself drew the comparison between liquid milk and bottled water; where we would be better off bottling the water the cows drank rather than bothering with all this work and hassle of producing milk at a much lower price. I can answer the question very easily. Water is available from the tap at equal or in some cases higher quality than you buy on the shelf in bottles, but, water is branded and properly marketed which adds value. The consumer spends time looking at the brands and deciding which to buy, I have seen you do it!

Milk, an amazingly versatile food, healthy, nutritious, fresh, tasty, is sold by processors as a commodity, each fighting for market share, and the retailers sell it cheap in order to bring people into their stores. They are making a very good margin despite this, as the processors have given it to them plus a slice of the cream money which was sold separately having removed it in order to create full fat, semi-skimmed and full skimmed milk, all sold at the same price usually. The processor then deducts his margin and passes what is left to the farmer, which is less now that it costs to produce; just like the bankers taking vast gambles and the taxpayer pays for those deals when they go wrong.

Where will it end? There is a campaign gathering momentum, with retailers that behave responsibly and pay a proper price for milk, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S and Waitrose in the clear, but those who don’t are in for some pressure, and on the front line are Asda (always the first to devalue), Morrisons (who are a good company but need to get in line) and surprise, surprise the Co-op (one of the toughest companies on farmers recently despite all their ‘fair-trade rhetoric). All the others, with Lidl, Aldi, Iceland etc will be in for pressure too, and this time many farmers have little choice but to take matters into their own hands if common sense does not prevail.

Now I don’t expect the dairy crisis to register with the government, who are busy dealing with the financial crisis in this country, the euro crisis in Europe, the global banking crisis…sorry?....what’s that?....Oh!...they are busy dealing with something far more important and earth shattering…the reform of the House of Lords! Of course this was the central plank in the coalition’s agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in their rush for power…sorry…in their bid to do the right thing ‘for the good of the country’. Well Nick Clegg, if this was the big issue (after losing your other one – proportional representation), why did you make such a mess of it? Elected members (by PR which we have refused) for 15 years with no democratic means of checking or removing them on £300 a day (you can double that if past form is anything to go by)? More politicians who have no little to offer? You must be joking; and you deserve to lose again.

I can tell you from experience that giving evidence in the House of Commons is a darn sight easier than giving evidence in the House of Lords, where people know their stuff, have experience in real life, are not trying to score cheap points at every turn. This coalition (and I haven’t mentioned the Olympics and security or the airports etc etc etc) is a shambles. Even the bright stars such as George Osborne has revealed himself to be more of a firework as he shone brightly for a nano-second before falling to earth, a smouldering piece of cardboard last week as he attempted to make political capital in a most unpleasant and personal way over the Barclays Bank crisis. Cameron is showing himself to be weak, and has made the fatal error of allowing a predictable and sizable revolt on the back benches. They have courage and the bit between their teeth now, and he has a major problem unless he stands up to the Liberal Democrats who have nowhere to go other than oblivion.

Gwyn Jones