Finally, changes to tractor weights and speed limits

Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary
Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary

It is still very warm for the end of October despite the storm and high winds hitting different parts of the country.

The leaves have turned very suddenly and we are now in full autumn colours with no frost having driven the change, although there is quite a range of colours on the oak with some of them still quite green.

Winter is coming as the hour has gone back, and it is light at 6.30am again (for now).

Grass growth continues but the value is dropping now as we get nearer winter, still plenty good enough for young stock and sheep, but dairy cows need quite a bit of supplement to make up for the lack of energy if they are to milk properly.

We have only cut the hedgerows inside the grazing fields at Tillington in order to clear the electric fences, leaving the roadside hedge trimming until later. I notice that although some farmers have cut their hedges an increasing number seem to leave hedge-cutting until later in the winter.

Some farmers cut their hedges every other year, whilst others claim that this is not good for the hedge and prevents it being a nice tight growth. One would think that little birds would benefit from a tight hedge, easier to build and hide their nests in, offering more protection?

As Tesco struggles to re-build itself, and other retailers find themselves unable to follow the model which has served them so well for so many years, retailers and caterers have been urged by government to support British farms and buy local produce following the horse meat scandal.

Professor Chris Elliott a food safety expert put in charge of food fraud following the troubles last year wants shorter supply chains which allows buyers to be confident of the origin and integrity of the food they buy.

Speaking at a Conference in London, he said ‘The more steps you have in a supply chain, the more points of vulnerability’.

He also stressed that if retailers want to deal with local beef farmers that they must change the way they operate, as those farmers need to invest in their property and animals which means a five year business plan. They will not do it if they think that the contract could be lost in a few weeks or months.

Retailers are working on this already and they are very keen to try and build a similar ‘integrated’ system which they have in place with pigs and chicken. It will be more difficult with beef, but a switch to more traditional breeds, putting a chain together from farm to processor to supermarket is under way.

Processors are charged with putting all this together and they have already understood that more beef will be coming from dairy herds as the traditional suckler cow continues to fall in numbers due to costs.

Persuading dairy farms to cross their dairy cows with traditional breeds such as Aberdeen Angus and Herefords, putting together good calf rearing operators, and then looking at the lower costs of rearing these animals compared to the bigger continental cattle will be the challenges.

Supermarkets want smaller cattle these days and farmers need to keep an eye on that as things move on. I see this potentially as a great opportunity for British farmers if we can get it right.

The second badger cull has finished last week and seems according to those organising it to have gone well, with no issues regarding to ‘humane-ness’ or safety despite the intimidation and disruption by protestors.

It is early days of course but there are signs that some farms in the cull area have gone clear in their bTB tests following last year’s cull as re-infection has not taken place. The number of badgers following the second cull will be less and infection should be lower still, but there is a long way to go in this battle against the disease.

The outcome is predictably disputed by protesters who claim that figures leaked by Natural England shows that the target numbers have not been reached. Presumably they take the credit for this which is perverse given that these are trials to establish if badger culling works or not.

Defra insist that it is far too early to speculate on numbers as they need to be independently audited along with other elements of the cull. The humanness of the cull will also be revealed and signed off by the Chief Veterinary Officer.

Should an employee of Natural England have passed on information to the protesters it will be a serious breach of the agency’s partiality as a licencing body for the cull and will need investigating?

In Wales it has been decided not to introduce a ‘tabular valuations’ system (as occurs in England) for cattle slaughtered as a result of bovine TB. Welsh farmers have been lobbying very hard against the system imposed on English farmers which has substantially cut down the amount paid for animals infected by the disease.

Opposition members of the Welsh Parliament are also pleased at the decision, as the failure to tackle the wildlife problem in Wales has meant that many more cattle are culled each year.

At long last there has been movement on tractor weight and speed limits. From the spring of next year, the Department of Transport (DfT) will increase the maximum combined weight of tractor and trailer from 24.39t to 31 tonnes; the maximum speed will also be increased from 20mph to 25mph.

Whilst we as an industry would have liked the DfT to go further, this is a big step in the right direction and will bring many operators on the roads today within the law.

The size and weights of tractors and trailers means that the current law is a nonsense unless one attaches a smaller and therefore lighter tractor to a large trailer, which is plain dangerous.

I was reminded last week of the first time I noticed politics existed! 50 years ago Harold Wilson became Prime Minister, who appeared at the time a new breed of politician, and with television to support his genial personality to good effect. ‘A man of the people’ I remember it being said; my first ‘sound-bite’ and sadly not the last.

A clever tactician and the first to take full advantage of the media, becoming a familiar figure on our screens together with his pipe.

Television interviews in those days had been very friendly and polite until a chap called Robin Day came along and upset the politician’s applecart. Remember him?