Winter is coming, and I’m in need of some positive farming news

It hasn’t been a great afternoon. If you live in my part of the world you will know that it has been wet and windy, not very pleasant if there is outdoors work to be done. The lambs are just a few weeks from being ‘finished’ (sent off to market) but for the moment they are having to cope in conditions such as those we had today. It is exposed on the Essex marsh and I found myself stopping regularly as I drove around the sheep, cutting the odd lamb from brambles in which they had somehow entangled themselves. A couple have shown signs of liver fluke and one in particular was in need of attention, so I brought it up to the ‘recuperation unit’ at the barns, treating it and hoping that it will recover tonight. Days like this just happen in farming. It’s part of the scenery. It can be a very hard job on days like today. The difficulty is, especially when it comes to sheep farming, that the returns are often so small that all of those hours that go in to caring for stock can seem futile. However, we plod on regardless, determined to keep going. Of course there are good moments and days which give you that welcome boost and reminder of how fortunate you are to be in this strange world that can seem so foreign to the modern life of many today.

I walked through the door this evening utterly soaked through. A change of clothes, mug of tea and log fire soon perked things up and I picked up the Farmers Weekly. My goodness, if one wanted a reason to depress you then this Weekly certainly does it (disclaimer: there are some positive bits of news in this week’s issue – it’s not all bad news!). I am losing my confidence in the future of ag. The near constant reminders that civil servants are busy beavering away planning for what happens in a ‘worst case scenario no deal Brexit’ does little to reassure me, and I don’t believe the Agriculture Bill provides the clarity that we need in any regard. When I think of my lambs, or the future of our arable rotation, or our ‘alternative crops’; when I think of farmers all over the country providing food of high quality and high animal welfare; Defra seems to be missing a trick by providing a real boost and much needed investment in innovative food production. Regular readers will know how much I support a system that places the priority on boosting biodiversity on farms or ensuring a safe and thriving natural environment. However, there needs to be sustained support for food production. In his editorial intro this week FW editor Philip Clarke pushes readers towards the AHDB’s Horizon report ‘Preparing for Change: the characteristics of top performing farms’ (which I admit I am yet to read). I completely agree that all farm businesses should strive to perform as well as they possibly can and should look to the top 25%. However, I believe it would irresponsible to remove any sort of safety net from the less productive farms. They should be supported to improve, not merely expected to without extra resources pumped in. When money is tight it is very difficult to invest what is sufficient to move a farm business on to the future. Producers need to be provided with the tools to invest and from that a successful future can be forged. I mentioned in my own response in the Health and Harmony consultation that producers fundamentally need front line support in the form of cash for investment and advice from competent advisors. The treasury is playing with fire if they push budgets back any further. I remain skeptical for where we are heading. When I pick up my Weekly this time next year I really hope I get some more positive farming news.

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