Some jobs give you too much time to think

I think it was the water utility company who started the rot. They put a new water main through, could be thirty years ago now, and of course dug through the hedge. But they didn’t fix it properly, they merely put in a wooden post and rail fence. Which rotted.

Then sheep or cattle went through it and before you know where you are, you have this.

So I decided it was about time I fixed it. Whilst the two fields on either side of the hedge are largely run as one, the gap here, right next to the gate, is a pain in the proverbial. When you’re driving livestock out of the gate, the hedges are supposed to channel them onto the road. Having a gap here means that your average sheep or dairy heifer glances at the gap and decides it looks more fun than the road. So in the odd hour I’ve had, I’ve ‘copped it up’ again. At the moment it’s got a couple of old hurdles on the top to deter the adventurous, but over the next couple of years, when the lad comes round with the hedge cutter, I’ll mention to him not to cut either side of the hurdles. Then when there’s enough stuff grown I’ll just lay it across the gap and we’ll be back to where we were thirty odd years ago. At which point some muppet will probably decide to renew the water main.

‘Copping up’ is easy enough, you’ve just got to work methodically. The dike cop is two stone ‘walls’ separated by a centre packed with earth. So you lay your two parallel rows of stones and on top of them you lay turf. Then you fill the space between them with earth, stones, whatever. Then on top of the turf you lay another row of stones. But they’re set in slightly, the wall has a ‘batter’ or receding slope. It leans on the packed earth and stuff.
So you just continue the process, a layer of stone, a layer of turf, pack behind with soil and then the next layer of stones, followed by turf, and so on.

But a quiet methodical job like this can give you too much time to think. At the moment people are going on about our government doing trade deals with other countries which will lead to cheaper food coming into this country.

Let’s look at this with an eye to history. Since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 this country has had a cheap food policy. We have a large industrial population, and to be competitive on the world market, it’s necessary for this population to have cheap food. This means that wages don’t have to be high, meaning your industry’s costs are low and you’re able to undercut competitors. Not only that, but as time goes on, even if wages do rise, your urban population has money to spend. They become consumers, driving the economy. If they’re spending money on food, they’re not spending it on phones, white goods, Netflix subscriptions, Amazon Prime or whatever.

But every so often you’ll have something that means you cannot import this cheap food. The First World War was one of these occasions. The U boat blockade meant that Government frantically threw money at farming, desperate to get yields up. After the First World War, government abandoned agriculture, farm prices fell and cheap food came back into the country. Farming almost collapsed. I remember talking to men whose parents were allowed to continue in the farm for an entirely nominal rent because the landlord wanted the house lived in and not abandoned.

Obviously the Second World War changed things, dramatically. And after the Second World War some sharp people sold farms, expecting to buy land cheap when government abandoned farming and it collapsed again. But this never happened because the Second World War didn’t really end. It morphed into the ‘Cold War’. There were still hostile submarines out there in the Atlantic, it’s just that they weren’t sinking our food supplies, yet.

So all the way through the 1950s to the 1980s, farm prices kept up with inflation. Well there or thereabouts. But then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was over. President George H.W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher talked about the ‘Peace Dividend.’ In this town we paid it. The number of people working in our shipyard fell from about 16,000 to as low as 3,000 in a couple of years without even making the BBC News (because we’re not in London.)
Then slowly, steadily, food prices started falling. Sometimes they fell in real terms. Farmers in 2021 were getting less for milk than I got back in 1996. Milk is just a useful indicator, other prices fell in much the same way. This isn’t merely a UK government decision. We were part of the EU, the EU was following the same policy. It took money from tax payers to support farmers and allowed food prices to fall. To be fair there are arguments in favour of this, as food prices are regressive, falling most heavily on the poor. Taxation shouldn’t be regressive.

Still in 2008, out of nowhere, there was a shortage of wheat and prices rocketed. We may be modern and sophisticated but we’re two bad harvests from barbarism. For the Arab world there was an unfortunate increase in wheat prices at the same time as oil prices stagnated. Governments could no longer afford to subsidise their populations and hungry people rioted. We had ‘the Arab Spring.’

Here a Labour Government did briefly talk about self-sufficiency but a couple of years’ later self-sufficiency was being defined as ‘being able to afford to import food.’ So that was all right then.

But in reality we’re not doing anything unique here in the UK. Ancient Athens had the same policy. Faced with being unable to feed a growing population with home grown wheat, the city concentrated on exports (at the time Pottery was one of the main ones) and used the money to buy grain.

Foreign policy was often driven by the need to ensure grain. Any Egyptian leader looking for allies to help him lead his people in rebellion against their Persian overlords would find an ally in Athens, keen to secure a reliable grain supply from Egypt. Athens spent the blood of their citizens in a series of wars. Then when the Persian Empire had tightened its hold on Egypt, during the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians turned their eyes on Sicily, another major grain growing region. An expedition was sent and never returned. Indeed the Athenians lost the Peloponnesian War when they lost their fleet and faced being starved into submission. It was probably only Spartan foresightedness which stopped the other cities having Athens razed to the ground and her citizens sold into slavery.

After the war Athens rebuilt their empire and came to rely on grain from the Crimea and the Ukraine. The rise of Macedonia threatened Athenian access to the Black Sea, leading to another war, another defeat and this time, permanent subservience. Still reliant on the outside world for grain, Athens trimmed its sails and supported whichever power that could deliver the grain ships.

People often mock our political and civil service elite because they were taught classics, but at least classics give you a basic understanding of history. The politicians facing the might of Nazi Germany were fully aware of the fate of Athens. Far better to teach politicians classics than have them sit degrees in fantasy subjects like politics and economics.

Still we’ve not yet fallen as far as Athens. But we share the Athenian Dilemma. We rely on imported food, can no longer afford a fleet to enforce our will on the world and now have to grovel to the major powers who supply our grain.

At least we’ve never yet awarded an American or Russian President divine honours. Just give us time.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts, available from Amazon in paperback or on Kindle

or in every other ebook format from

https://books2read.com/b/md7XEX

As a reviewer wrote, “Another gentle and entertaining read about the pros and cons of Farming, ably assisted by Sal the collie dog and Billy the feral farm cat.
As always, I’m amazed Farmers make enough money to keep their farms and families going, given the ‘guidance’ given by the ‘experts’ in government and the Civil Service…”

Spending the money three times

The whole system of farm payments is up in the air. To be brutally frank, this isn’t surprising. On a general, first world level, governments have blown so much money on the pandemic they are scrabbling behind the sofa for loose change. I would be surprised if, in five years’ time, any country hasn’t cut its agricultural support, or moved the money from one heading to another so it can burnish green credentials whilst still claiming to support farming.

But here in the UK we’re perhaps further down the road than many others. The problem comes when you assess the money spent in agricultural support. Originally, when you delve back into the past, the initial purpose was to ensure that UK (and EU farmers) were able to compete against foreign producers who didn’t have the same costs, many of them imposed by EU and UK regulation. It has long been accepted that consumers are not willing to pay for the higher standards that those who lobby for them claim that consumers want. So if we want an agriculture in the UK (and the EU) farmers had to be compensated for the extra costs the state imposed.

As an aside I’ve been somewhat amused to hear civil servants and ministers say that farmers cannot be subsidised ‘just to obey the law.’ Funny really, the whole CAP was based on doing just that.

The problem came when all agricultural support was paid through one scheme, ‘single farm payment,’ or ‘basic payment scheme’. When the money went out in scores of different schemes it largely passed under the radar. But when it was paid out through one scheme, there was one damned big heap of money sitting there. Every lobby group, every other government department, cast eyes on that pile and tried to work out how they could get some.

One way was ‘Rural development’. After all it was the ‘second pillar of the CAP’ and the idea was that some money destined to go to farmers would be used to support the infrastructure that would help their businesses. In one case a particularly smart local authority got rural development money to pay for a bus shelter.

Then there was environmental spending. The idea now is to support farmers through environmental payments. In itself it isn’t a bad idea. The problem comes when government takes money from the SFP/BPS pot and puts it into the environmental pot. Remember, the regulations, the extra costs, imposed on the industry are still here, and frankly are not going to be removed. But doing the work necessary to get the environmental payments is not cost free either. So the farmer who moves across to environmental payments now has to pay the costs entailed in the schemes, and if there is a ‘profit’ the farmer still has to pay the cost of the extra regulation out of that. By definition there isn’t as much to put towards these regulations as there was.

Finally it’s been suggested that farmers might have to hire advisers. This is understandable. The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts has produced its Environmental Land Management Scheme report this month. One comment was, “We are concerned that ELM [Environmental Land Management Schemes] will be too complex and bureaucratic, and will not cater for the full range of farm types and circumstances.”
So you have a scheme that is too complicated and bureaucratic and farmers will have to hire advisers to negotiate a way through it. Even if the money is paid for by the scheme, not by the individual farmer, the money is still being paid out of the same pot.

So now we are in a position where the scheme will pay expensive advisors to advise farmers what environmental schemes they should enter, but which they can no longer afford to join because they cannot make a living once they’re in them.

My advice to any farmer is to look at each scheme as if it were another crop. You have to ask yourself can you afford to grow it? What are the margins?

Now I’ve looked at the schemes and will apply for one on hedgerows, because, in reality, I’m doing that anyway. It is the only option of all the schemes that I can enter without it costing me more to earn the money (in a combination of new costs and lost production) than I’ll earn. It’s the only option that will not lead to me cutting production. As you’re the ones who eat that production, look forward to buying more from abroad.

Here’s the graph of world wheat prices for the last two decades. Still looking for cheap food?

Amusingly enough the government and the bureaucracy are also saying that farmers will have to become more efficient.

Let us look at the figures a moment Beef and Pork are both cheaper, allowing for inflation, than they were in the 1960s. The consumer can pay less, in cash terms, for milk than they did in the 1990s.We’ve had sixty years of driving prices down. Perhaps we should suggest that MPs and Civil Servants should prove their efficiency by going back to their 1995 salaries?

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the real experts

From Amazon in paperback or on Kindle

And from everybody else as an ebook

https://books2read.com/u/mggzxz

As a reviewer commented, “

I love Jim’s autobiographical musings. They make me feel that I am following him and Sal, his dog and manager, around the farm as he encounters the vicissitudes of everyday life. I feel I’m wandering around after him, with his great narrative style.

This book, along with the others in this series, are an absolute treat and gives us the opportunity to explore life in someone else’s head.”

The crumbs under the table

What will 2022 bring for farming?

I never forget seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of Tony Blair. The first when he became Prime Minister and the latter as he finally left the job. That being said, I’m willing to put money on Boris aging even faster. The problem for him is that next year doesn’t look like it’s going to be particularly good.

One problem is that Europe (by which I don’t mean the EU, but the continent) isn’t particularly wealthy any more. The writing is now on the wall for everybody to read. Energy is at the bottom of it.

Gas imports into the EU are seriously political, after all much gas came through the Ukraine. So the Russians built Nord Stream 2 to bypass the Ukraine (which depends on the money it makes from the pipeline) and to land the gas directly into Germany. Last year 49% of German gas came from Russia.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1201743/russian-gas-dependence-in-europe-by-country/

Perhaps due to pressure from the US, perhaps due to pressure from the Baltic States, Poland, and the Ukraine, the Germans have put off when Nord Stream 2 can deliver. If this was supposed to be a shot across Putin’s bows, it didn’t work too well because Russia is having a colder winter than usual and can happily use all the gas it can get.

The problem is that for much of the year, wealthy countries like China, Japan and South Korea have outbid Europe when it came to buying gas.

https://www.ft.com/content/4885b7f5-97a2-4e66-af91-a9211956b0f5

Luckily the rich have filled their tanks, they’ve got plenty of stocks to last them through to spring when prices fall, so they’re not all that bothered any more. At the moment, if you’re based on the U.S. Gulf Coast, you can reckon on getting 43.205/MMBtu in Europe but Asia is only willing to spend $38.975. So a lot of really big gas tankers have turned round in mid ocean and are now sailing to Europe. We’ll have gas, but we’ll have to pay for it.

Obviously looking at the graph you can see the price is dropping from its peak. Looking ahead the futures market thinks gas will continue to drop in price.
https://www.naturalgasintel.com/lng-tankers-diverting-mid-voyage-for-premiums-in-europe-where-prices-keep-setting-records/

The BBC is estimating that the reasonably average domestic customer is going to have to find £1,277 a year. Then there are the industries that aren’t going to be able to keep going at these prices. We’re going to get other problems. Cannot see there being much fertiliser produced in the UK at these prices. In fact we might reach the stage where government helps subsidise CO2 production and companies make fertiliser as a by-product.

But either way we are almost certainly going to see redundancies, newspaper headlines about families who cannot afford to stay warm and still eat, and it’s going to be genuinely tough for some people. On top of that we’ll continue to see the steady increase in costs we face as we move over to a green economy. Talking to people working in them, the foodbanks have had a busy couple of years, but they’re gearing up for this coming year being worse.

And then we have farming. Obviously fertilisers are going to look expensive. I wonder if the supermarkets will get their arms twisted by government to allow the use of more sewage sludge in agriculture?

But on top of this, across the whole of Europe, not only are populations facing increasing energy prices, but governments are trapped between reduced incomes and vastly increased spending due to the pandemic.

Certainly in the UK, I cannot imagine government willingly doing anything that will increase food prices. In fact I think that they can be relied upon to do their best to keep prices down.

It will be interesting to see whether the EU, with a population of 447 million people, of whom 9.7 million are engaged in agriculture, (Just over 2%) has the nerve to tell the 98% that they have to dig deeper to help the 2%.

From the point of view of the UK farmer, what’s the best way forward?
Certainly if you can earn environmental money without damaging the earning power of your business, it is probably worth considering.

Then there’s always diversification to consider.

But finally, remember that the UK is hardly the prime market to sell food into. I suspect our competitors will be eying up the rich world, China, Japan, and South Korea. Even if, as a business, it isn’t our produce that is exported, we could still do reasonably well on import substitution.

But people do at least have to eat. The BBC had some nice figures as to how you could save money on energy. Reducing the setting on your thermostat by one degree could save you £55 a year. Put like that, cancelling your Netflix subscription could save you three degrees. It’s the sort of calculation people will be faced with whether they want to or not. A large part of the job of a foodbank isn’t just feeding people, it’s signposting them to those who can give them the help they need. For some, it’s help in budgeting.

Now of course, it’s entirely likely that none of the above will come true. Look at the prophecies we’ve seen in the past. Boris put a figure for the NHS on the side of a bus and it looks like chicken feed compared to what he’s had to spend. Whether he wanted to or not. We were told that Kent would end up a lorry park and funnily enough it hasn’t. We were promised a shortage of turkeys for Christmas, and my lady wife returned from a brief tour of the shops on Christmas Eve to announce that fresh turkeys were being discounted because shops had too many. With any prediction, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the ‘unknown unknowns’ will kick everything up in the air.

  
Anyway, have a good New Year, stay well and stay busy.

♥♥♥♥

 

There again, you could always talk to an expert!

As a reviewer commented, “A collection of anecdotes and observations about farming in England in the 21st century. Written by an actual farmer, this book is based on real experience and touches on a variety of subjects in a witty and engaging style. Cats, cattle, bureaucrats, workers, and the working dog all make an appearance, as do reminiscences about the old days and speculation on a possible future. This book is both entertaining and informative, a perfect diversion for the busy reader.”

Going Native

The thing about farming and agriculture is that it isn’t just an industry, it isn’t just a way of life, it’s a world. All sorts of people come into this world and they might pass through, going about their lawful occasions. They might enter it and flee gibbering unable to cope with the proclivities of the natives. Some will arrive, breathe deeply and realise that they’ve finally come home. They go native.

All sorts of people go native. I remember one morning our postman pushing a small calf down the drive towards me. It was probably a couple of days old and had somehow managed to get out onto the road. As he drove along to deliver letters it stood there in the middle of the road bawling at him. So he just got out and walked it home, then walked back to collect his van and the post.

Then our dairy and milking parlour were next to the calving boxes. This was handy, not only could I keep an eye on a calving cow during milking, but as cows about to calve walked down through to the collecting yard with the rest of the herd, I’ve known them stand by a calving pen gate, waiting to be let in. It also meant that more than one milk tanker driver ended up giving me a hand with a difficult calving when all he’d really intended to do is to collect the milk. But it’s the world we live in and they were just part of it.

There again, others can be part of our world if they want to be. I remember one lady who worked for the RPA (she might still do for all I know). Back when they were keen on doing ear tag inspections she came to check our cattle ear tags. We had over two hundred young stirks and similar on the farm at the time, as I was out of dairy and was buying calves and selling stores. Two hundred head of cattle take some looking at, and we put a lot though the crush. But she took a look at one of the buildings, and commented that rather than put that batch of cattle through the crush, if I fed them at the trough, she would be able to walk down the length of the trough and just read the tags as she went along. That could well have saved us an hour.

But at the end of the day we had the right number of cattle but one ear number was missing. We could not find the missing one anywhere, and she just left us her mobile number with the comment, “Have a think over the weekend and I bet you’ll find it.” She was right, the extra one had been wrongly tagged. When you looked at the big tag from the front it read 600123, and when you read it from the back it read 700124. When they’d tagged calves they had put the wrong male part in the wrong female part of the tag. Nobody had noticed at auction because whoever was jotting it down was ‘behind’ the animal. It was the same with us, as the animal had gone through the crush, I’d looked at the back of the tag because, working the crush, I was behind him.

So I phoned our RPA lady that night and told her. Her comment? “I’ll mark it down as a passed inspection and you get the little beggar retagged.”

As an aside, you might remember that we used to have a lot higher level of inspection for ear tags. These inspections could be a nightmare. Checking a bull beef unit could lead to people and animals getting seriously hurt. The problem was that the EU regulations were explicit. If, nationally, you had more than a certain percentage failure rate, you had to increase the percentage of farms tested. Because the RPA had defined failure very strictly. From memory, a herd with more than a couple of missing tags had failed, even if the animals, being double tagged, were still fully identified. This meant that an awful lot of herds failed even through there was no problem with animal ID. The big, high visibility tags that the EU insisted that we use tear out a lot more easily than the little metal ketchum tags we’d always stuck with. Of course the more herds failed, the more inspections you had to do, and as more herds failed, then the level of inspection increased further meaning more herds were inspected and more failed…….. but I’m sure you get the picture.

The problem for government was they had to pay for all the inspections because under EU regulations they couldn’t pass the cost onto farmers. Anyway the cost to farmers of the inspections was high enough anyway. Finally, after a lot of lobbying the RPA saw sense, and redefined failure, so suddenly the failure rate plummeted and we no longer had anything like the number of inspections.

But as it was, our inspection was a few months before foot and mouth broke out. Anyway as some might remember, in the first few weeks there was a lot of confusion as to what was really going on. It broke out on the 19 February 2001. The Blair government at the time wanted to hold a general election and was accused in some quarters of playing down the outbreak rather than having to delay the general election as they eventually did.

So who could I ask who might tell me what was really going on? So I rang the lady from the RPA. After all, I still had her number. She answered the phone, she was in the middle of a field with a vet. (Who I knew and who said ‘Hi’) They were inspecting a flock of sheep, and in her words, “They are rotten with it.” At that point I knew that the outbreak was totally out of control. She, lord love her, was part of our world, and was doing her best to make sure our world continued. She was absolutely straight with the farmers she dealt with.

And of course, the other group who are prone to going native are the vets. Many of them will marry into the farming community where their practice is. Indeed one lady vet I knew commented that the only disapproval she met was from farmers’ daughters who felt that having a female vet removed a potentially eligible male from the market. Many large animal vets also have a farming background to start off with. 

Some vets fit right in immediately but others take a little while to adjust. In some cases they even have to learn a foreign language, as the English the vet might have learned at his mother’s knee in the Home Counties is very much not the English he’ll hear spoken on a farm in Cumbria.
I remember one who did rather seem to struggle with it, until one morning he was examining a stirk with a sore eye. He would have to inject antibiotic under the eye lid, with is a tricky enough procedure. The stirk wasn’t helping and I was desperately trying to hold the head still whilst somebody else was trying to keep the rest of the stirk in place. In exasperation the vet shouted, “For God’s sake, hod the bluidy thing still.”

At the point we knew he was home.

♥♥♥♥

Of course when it comes to going native, you really need to speak to them as know

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”

What is the future going to bring us?

I went down to London the other day. First time for a couple of years, so I was quite intrigued to see what things were like down there. On the train and the stations, masks were optional. Pretty much the same proportion of people were wearing them as wear them round here. Once in the big city it did feel quiet. Just walking across the city there were fewer people about that I would have expected. On the tube, whilst Transport for London kept announcing the wearing of masks was mandatory, I reckon that about 50% of people were wearing them at the time, and only about half the staff wore one. The only place I was asked to wear a mask was going into a bookshop. His shop, his rules, so I put a mask on. Walking through Whitehall, St John’s Smith Square and Horseferry Road, there were so few civil servants about that if it wasn’t for the security guards it would have been empty. I noticed one block of Whitehall offices being turned into flats. Looks like the government’s plan to cut their central London office estate by 80% is progressing. A lot of civil servants are still working from home and I suspect they’ll not be coming back. Once you get to a certain age and have outgrown ambition it could be nice to drift through working from home into semi-retirement. Coming home, I’ve spent a bit of time over the years, waiting at Euston Station where the concourse can get very crowded. Well this time it wasn’t that crowded, but then they called the Manchester train. Those of us were left just stood there and admired the tumbleweed rolling across. I’ve never known it as empty waiting for the 16:30.

But just watching, it strikes me that whilst there are those who are genuinely worried, and those who are posturing for political reasons (both for and against masks) most people have moved on. Covid is an endemic disease, the people who are vulnerable were vulnerable to flu and in some cases, to colds and similar.

It’s the same with Brexit. It’s not surprising really, the vote was on 23 June 2016. Yes there are people who got over-emotional over it all, but most people are just getting on with life. Yes there’s political arguments with EU members, and disputes with the French but most people have heard so many horror stories they no longer take a lot of notice. We’re no longer in the EU and love it or loathe it, most people are used to it.

And now we’ve got global warming and there are all sorts of predictions. I saw one headline where somebody was claiming that farming in the UK would collapse by 2100AD. I confess I never bothered to read the article, neither I nor the writer were going to be alive then. I cheerfully make predictions about what the world will be like when I’m safely dead. If I’m wrong, you can come and shout imprecations at a small plaque in a country churchyard if it makes you feel better.

But it does seem that with regard to climate change, the population fall as usual into three groups. One is apparently absolutely terrified and believe the worst. One group doesn’t believe in it and will never believe in it. The third group, by far the largest, have just shrugged, would agree that something needs to be done, and assume that the people at both extremes are lying, hysterical, or have careers in the industry.

But just talking to people, they seem resigned to things having to be done, and they assume that it will be them who will pay for it. These strike me as entirely reasonable assumptions. From the point of view of the politicians, they have the luxury of putting forward programmes and not having to face the consequences. So in this country some of the extra costs we’re all currently paying are due to announcements made by Ed Miliband when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. But to be fair, some of the successes we’ve seen have been due to measures he took. It’s the same with stuff being announced now. Back in spring 2019, Philip Hammond as chancellor announced that ‘fossil-fuel heating systems’ would not be installed in any domestic new build properties from 2025. He’s been kicked upstairs to the Lords and it’s Boris and his administration who has to deal with the issue. In all probability it’ll be Boris’s successor who will get the flak from the electorate when those particular chickens come home to roost.

But it’s obvious to everybody that the road we’re having to walk is going to be awfully costly for the ordinary taxpayer and consumer. Energy is going to be more expensive, and most things take energy to produce or transport. So pretty much everything is going to be more expensive, and a lot of things we took for granted will no longer be affordable. I’m still waiting for the campaign to put people off flying on holiday. “Jet off early to watch the world burn.”

From an agricultural point of view this isn’t entirely good news. On one hand, given that people are going to be short of money and feeling the squeeze, any UK government of any political persuasion is going to do what they can to make sure price of staple foodstuffs are kept down. So whoever is in power will make trade deals with places like New Zealand, Australia and South America to not merely guarantee supply but also to ensure the prices stay low. The last thing any UK government wants is people skint, hungry, and angry. Looked at from a historical point of view, government is being longsighted.

Bit of a sod for farmers, but then there are 107 thousand farmers in the UK. We form about 0.16% of the UK population. Politically we’re irrelevant. We’re outnumbered by vegans (admittedly their numbers churn far more quickly than ours,) In fact we’re outnumbered two to one by the 365,000 licenced taxi and private hire drivers. 

Government (and here I’m ignoring political party again) are going to have to balance output (because the smarter ones have realised that we will have to produce stuff here), environmental concerns, and recreation and tourism.

I think we have to be realistic. UK governments have followed a ‘cheap food’ policy since the war if not since the repeal of the Corn Laws and the industrial revolution. This policy is not going to change. Those who survive in farming are going to be the good ones. The efficient who aren’t over-borrowed, those lucky in their location for picking up environmental money, and those which a sharp eye for a chance.

There will be opportunities coming up. In thirty years time selling hay to commuters and hauling away horse muck or night soil might be the way to go.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts!
Available from Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle

and as an ebook from everybody else at

https://books2read.com/u/3yearv

As a reviewer commented, “Dipping in and out of this book, as ever with Jim Webster’s farming anecdotes, is a great way to relax – although thought provoking at times, despairing at others, the humour is ever present, and how welcome is that in these times?”

Boring about Pigs?

I kept a few pigs before the last foot and mouth outbreak. I used to buy a weaned litter or two and fatten them on a mix of spare milk and some 16% protein dairy feed. This is grossly inefficient but was quite profitable because I was having them killed at a local abattoir. Then they were cut up for me by an excellent local butcher who always bought a couple of them. Then the rest were sold direct to consumers (or very rarely the hotel trade). But the more who went to the consumer direct the better. They left a profit as opposed to just sort of covering their costs.

The problem is that the pig industry is really efficient. The major retailers got their teeth into it a lot of years ago and have bled the profit out of it. Back in 1971, loin with bone, was 77p a kilo. Now it is apparently £6.08 per kilo. But if we allow for inflation, it should be £11.13 a kilo.

Bleeding this sort of money out of an industry has knock on effects. The farmers producing the product have to get bigger and ‘more industrial’ and efficient. The abattoirs have to get more efficient and cut costs. Those in between who haul pigs or pork about have to get more efficient and cut costs. One part of that cutting cost is wages. Given the level of hygiene and welfare inspection we have in this country, designed to keep standards up, wages is one of the few areas where you can cut costs. Everybody in the chain, from the person who feeds the pigs through to the person who cuts them up for distribution, ends up being paid less. But if you import cheap labour, it’s possible to push down the wages of your fellow citizens. But it’s worth it, the consumer will get cheap pork which allows them to spend more of their income on the fun stuff, rather than food. I remember going round an abattoir in the early 1970s. Everybody working there was from ‘the United Kingdom or Ireland.’ I went into an abattoir in about 2010 to sort problems. All the notices were in Afrikaans and Polish and the only ‘native English speakers’ were the ladies in the office.

And now the system is starting to unravel. There isn’t the cheap labour. We have a population who rather expect a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. There’s also the problem of job satisfaction. Heaven help us if the labouring classes expect to feel fulfilled and valued at work.

It’s interesting that this isn’t just a UK phenomenon. I was listening to BBC Radio 4 yesterday morning when I was in the car. They sent a reporter to Rumania to see if Rumanian lorry drivers wanted to come and work in the UK. What they were told is that Rumania has a shortage of drivers and they’re trying to recruit in Vietnam and Pakistan. And why weren’t Rumanians coming to the UK? They admitted the money was starting to look good, but the hours were long, the working conditions poor, and they wanted to see their families. For owner drivers they also commented that the increase bureaucracy on the frontiers meant delays and they weren’t paid for the time they spend sitting waiting for paperwork to arrive.

But stepping back a little, the pig industry in Europe generally is taking a kicking. Reuters reported that Germans are eating less pork. Then there was a big loss of sales due to a poor summer meaning a poor barbecue season. Then coronavirus restrictions hit restaurant sales. On top of it all, there have been major import bans after African Swine Fever was found in Germany.  

Julia Kloeckner, the German agriculture minister was quoted as saying “The economic situation of farms is dramatic. We have extremely low prices for pigs and piglets which you cannot make a living from.”

Apparently Germany has about 260,000 tonnes of unsold pork, German pig prices are around 1.25 euros a kilo, which is down from 1.42 euros in July and 1.47 euros before the first case of ASF was discovered in Germany in September 2020.

https://www.thepigsite.com/news/2021/09/germany-needs-new-pig-farming-strategy-to-counter-low-prices

African Swine Fever is perhaps a bigger threat to our pig industry than a labour shortage. In Germany, the number of confirmed outbreaks in the wild boar population has reached 2,096. Poland has had over a hundred confirmed outbreaks of ASF in domestic pig herds. (Transmitted from wild boar which carry the disease) This year, ten European countries have registered ASF outbreaks in domestic pig herds, and the wild boar of much of Eastern Europe (Russia, Poland, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Romania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Estonia.) carry the disease.

https://www.feedstrategy.com/african-swine-fever/asf-german-pig-industry-situation-precarious/ For the UK, nobody really knows how many wild boar we have. Estimates vary between a very outdated 500, and a more current figure of 4,000. Estimates very rapidly go out of date. Forestry England produced the following figures for Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean


https://www.forestryengland.uk/article/more-information-about-wild-boar

Given that we no longer have ‘free movement’ there is a hope that we might be able to keep African Swine Fever out of the UK. So far the UK has managed to avoid the disease. We’ve never had it. But it’s a virus, can be carried by people on their shoes or clothing. It can be transported in meat that has been illegally imported, and to keep it out we need proper biosecurity at our ports of entry. To be fair, given the priority government has given to this area since the 2001 FMD outbreak, we’re probably screwed.

But seriously, if people think the pig industry is in trouble at the moment, it’s a walk in the park compared to what happens if we get African Swine Fever in our wild boar population.

To be fair, the wild boar problem has a solution. Have you ever tasted wild boar and apple sausages? They are fabulous.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know. Speak to the experts

In paperback or on kindle

And from everybody else as an ebook

https://books2read.com/u/3yearv

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”

The law of unintended consequences

I don’t often apologise to the government of the People’s Republic of China but I confess I have been somewhat sceptical about their sincerity when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. But apparently they are trying. The government laid down strict limits on the amount of energy that could be used in various provinces. But when lockdown ended, there were a lot of orders to fulfil and a big backlog to clear. So in a lot of places they went gung-ho to get production back on track. After all, the lackeys of the imperialist running dogs needed their cheap clothes and trainers. They were obviously worried we might have to go naked into the coming winter. But their self-sacrifice was for nothing.  It appears that twenty of the thirty provinces and regions in China massively increased their energy consumption.

The National Development and Reform Commission which monitors these things is cracking down. Local officials will be held responsible (now that is an enlightened attitude that could do with spreading) and in some places plants have been ordered to close. A lot of other plants are working at a lot lower throughput, using less energy.

https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-strike-harder-against-regions-that-fail-curb-energy-use-2021-09-16/

This sort of thing knocks on through the world economy in two ways. On a facebook group I sort of follow, somebody posted a photo of empty shelves in a shop selling the spray paints that he uses for his craft work. He is from Michigan. The people joining in the discussion came from around the English speaking world and the EU. All had noticed the same shortage. But then the paints probably came from the same factory.

Given that the Chinese aren’t selling, they’re also cutting back on their buying. German exports to China have fallen. China was Germany’s second largest market (after the EU) so this is serious. Fortunately for the Germans, sales to the USA increased, making the USA Germany’s second largest market. The cynic wonders whether this change will knock-on into foreign policy. Watch out for the new chancellor saying something positive about the importance of NATO?

There is another knock-on as well. The drive for greener energy means that the Chinese are moving away from coal, so they’ve been shifting to gas. Apparently, “Chinese state media quoted Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday as saying the country will secure its energy and power supplies following a series of blackouts and shortages that have forced a large number of companies to restrict output.”

https://www.ft.com/content/73c5aeb7-3d55-4405-97d5-ff44057855cc

It seems that word has come down from above that state-owned energy companies are to secure supplies for this winter at all costs. So if you’re worried about the cost of your gas central heating, the price of gas isn’t going to fall at any point in the near future.

But this web of interconnectivity links us all. Chatham House is doing some interesting work.

https://www.chathamhouse.org/about-us/our-departments/environment-and-society-programme/chokepoints-and-vulnerabilities-global

A lot of our food not only travels a long way, but passes through a lot of choke points where it could be seriously delayed. Whilst our grain might not pass through the Suez Canal or the Bosporus, should something block them for any length of time, the countries who do rely on that grain are going to be scrabbling round trying to ensure they don’t go hungry. They’re going to be in the market, bidding the price up to ensure people don’t starve. It’s not going to be pretty.

But then the World Bank said

https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/brief/food-security-and-covid-19

“Global food security relies increasingly on international trade. Production of grain is highly concentrated in just a handful of regions – principally the US Midwest, the Black Sea region, and Brazil.

Together, these breadbaskets supply the majority of the world’s wheat, maize and soybean and, crucially, provide the principal source of staple food supply in the most food-insecure countries of the Middle East, North Africa and East Africa.”

Things are getting fragile. Unfortunately it seems that when faced with covid, received wisdom meant the governments just switched the economy off and switched it back on again. It might work with a computer, but it takes a world economy a lot longer to boot up that even windows 10. Not only that but it looks as if it’s going to reboot in a subtly different format.

I think it’s probably time for people to adopt a more global view and realise that the problems are not caused by the political party they dislike in the country where they happen to live.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts

Look what the cat brought in

As an ebook from everybody but Amazon

https://books2read.com/u/md7XEX

And from Amazon, should they even get round to linking to wordpress

But here is is using the old classic block system https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B092TV6X9S/

As a reviewer commented, “Another gentle and entertaining read about the pros and cons of Farming, ably assisted by Sal the collie dog and Billy the feral farm cat.
As always, I’m amazed Farmers make enough money to keep their farms and families going, given the ‘guidance’ given by the ‘experts’ in government and the Civil Service…

As a reviewer commented, “Another gentle and entertaining read about the pros and cons of Farming, ably assisted by Sal the collie dog and Billy the feral farm cat.
As always, I’m amazed Farmers make enough money to keep their farms and families going, given the ‘guidance’ given by the ‘experts’ in government and the Civil Service…”

Milking it

I’ve spent a lot of time with milk cows. Milking them isn’t a cheap hobby. A lot of dairy farms have a business model which resembles a hosepipe. You get in quite a lot of money from the milk cheque but then it moves down the hosepipe at speed, and sprays the money out to your suppliers and the bank. Hopefully enough sticks to the sides of the hosepipe for you to live off.

Thanks to the pressures on dairy farms over the last generation (the consumer pays less for milk than they did back in 1996) dairy farms are as a rule pretty efficient. Certainly I’d challenge any other industry to produce at 1996 prices (or government departments to run on their 1996 budget.)

At the moment things aren’t looking too bad for dairy farmers. Whilst costs are going up, the price is also moving up. The results from GDT Auctions have been positive. As an aside, for those not in the industry, GDT is ‘Global Dairy Trade’ which allows buyers and sellers to trade milk and milk products globally. As you can see from the graph, prices are back up to levels last seen in 2013. But still in agriculture, that is counted as good news.

But this is starting to create problems for processors. They have a lot of skilled staff. Can they hang on to them? Not so long ago a lot of companies were paying lorry drivers about £550 a week. Now Waitrose is advertising for HGV drivers at over £1000 a week. As an aside, this may be what ‘levelling up’ looks like. The wages for those working in the building trade have also gone up.
So are the dairy processors going to pay higher wages to keep their staff? But they face a dilemma. It’s not just staff. A lot of other costs have gone up. Apparently the four pint plastic containers so popular in supermarkets have gone up about 2p. At the same time processors are going to face increased energy and fuel costs. Yet they cannot just cut the price they pay farmers for milk, as farmers will just move to supplying better companies.
Or alternatively the farmers might just stop milking altogether. There will soon be no more Basic Payment Scheme. But you can get money for entering environmental schemes. Now I’ve looked at the schemes. Let us assume you are an owner occupier and decide to put your small or even medium sized dairy farm into them. Whilst you could no longer run a dairy herd, it might be possible to get a sum pretty close to what you were getting from Basic Payment. But you’d get out of dairy. You could retire, stay on the farm, take the environmental payments and manage the land by being paid to take sheep over winter, and then take more cattle or sheep through the summer. It would nicely pad out the pension.

For the tenant it doesn’t look as tempting, but if enough owner occupiers do get out, there’s going to be fewer suppliers and the dairy processors might even have to compete for them.

But if dairy processors cannot just cut the price they pay farmers, where are they going to get their money from? Basically that leaves the customers. Now in 1995 government statistics say that the retail price for milk was 36per pint, which equates to 63.35ppl. Currently Tesco is selling milk at £0.51 a litre. So just allowing for inflation, the price the consumer should be paying per litre is about £1.20. So obviously there is room here for an increase. But are the retailers ready to put prices up?
They too face a squeeze, not only can they not just import cheap labour to keep their costs down, they cannot import cheap produce either. Firstly there isn’t any cheap produce. As I mentioned, GDT Auctions are global. Secondly, since the Brexit referendum, the pound has been at a more reasonable rate against the euro. This makes our exports cheaper (so lamb and beef have done well this last couple of years, in spite of, or perhaps because of, Brexit) and it makes our imports more expensive. So major retailers cannot even convincingly threaten to import milk to force prices down.

ratio of the Pound Sterling to the Euro

I honestly don’t think that the retailers have an option. I suspect they’ll have to start putting the price up, or they might struggle to get supplies. After all, if they try to drive the price down, the companies that process for retail will just fail, and the companies that make cheese and similar that can be sold around the world at world prices, will take the milk instead.

I know that milk is one of the products that supermarkets traditionally try and keep cheap. It’s rumoured to one of those staples, like bread and baked beans that everybody knows the price of. But I suspect even the major retailers are going to struggle to hold the price down for much longer.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know. Talk to the experts.

Available in paperback and on kindle from

and from everybody else as an ebook at

https://books2read.com/u/bwooxP

As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”

Keep on trucking?

Why would anybody be a lorry driver? The pay dropped because companies employed cheap labour from abroad. To an extent that is still happening with delivery drivers. We’ve had a charming Bulgarian man come into our yard looking for somebody else (we’re just the postcode.) His only sentence in English was ‘I am from Bulgaria and don’t speak English.’ To show us where he wanted to be, he showed us the name on the list. We then drew a map to show him where he should be (rural postcodes are quite big in the UK, a lot of the places in the post code aren’t in sight of each other.)

But back to Long Distance Lorry drivers. Where are the transport cafes where they used to have the chance of a decent meal cheap? Places where there was room to park the lorry and free overnight because they knew you’d have a breakfast before you left

I saw this, posted by an ex-driver who goes by the name of Jim Titheridge

“So, you are running out of food on the shelves, fuel in the garages, you can’t buy things you need, because the shops can’t get their supplies.

Why is that? 

A shortage of goods?  No

A shortage of money?  No

A shortage of drivers to deliver the goods?  Well, sort of.

There isn’t actually a shortage of drivers, what we have, is a shortage of people who can drive, that are willing to drive any more.  You might wonder why that is.  I can’t answer for all drivers, but I can give you the reason I no longer drive.  Driving was something I always yearned to do as a young boy, and as soon as I could, I managed to get my driving licence, I even joined the army to get my HGV licence faster, I held my licence at the age of 17.  It was all I ever wanted to do, drive trucks, I had that vision of being a knight of the roads, bringing the goods to everyone, providing a service everyone needed.  What I didn’t take into account was the absolute abuse my profession would get over the years.

I have seen a massive decline in the respect this trade has, first, it was the erosion of truck parking and transport café’s, then it was the massive increase in restricting where I could stop, timed weight limits in just about every city and town, but not all the time, you can get there to do your delivery, but you can’t stay there, nobody wants an empty truck, nobody wants you there once they have what they did want.

Compare France to the UK.  I can park in nearly every town or village, they have marked truck parking bays, and somewhere nearby, will be a small routier, where I can get a meal and a shower, the locals respect me, and have no problems with me or my truck being there for the night.

Go out onto the motorway services, and I can park for no cost, go into the service area, and get a shower for a minimal cost, and have freshly cooked food, I even get to jump the queues, because others know that my time is limited, and respect I am there because it is my job.  Add to that, I even get a 20% discount of all I purchase.  Compare that to the UK £25-£40 just to park overnight, dirty showers, and expensive, dried (under heat lamps) food that is overpriced, and I have no choice but to park there, because you don’t want me in your towns and cities.

Ask yourself how you would feel, if doing your job actually cost you money at the end of the day, just so you could rest.

But that isn’t the half of it.  Not only have we been rejected from our towns and cities, but we have also suffered massive pay cuts, because of the influx of foreign drivers willing to work for a wage that is high where they come from, companies eagerly recruited from the eastern bloc, who can blame them, why pay good money when you can get cheap labour, and a never ending supply of it as well.  Never mind that their own countries would suffer from a shortage themselves, that was never our problem, they could always get people from further afield if they needed drivers.

We were once seen as knights of the road, now we are seen as the lepers of society.  Why would anyone want to go back to that?

If you are worried about not getting supplies on your supermarket shelves, ask your local council just how well they cater for trucks in your district.

I know Canterbury has the grand total of zero truck parking facilities, but does have a lot of restrictions, making it difficult for trucks to stop anywhere.

Do you want me to go back to driving trucks?  Give me a good reason to do so.  Give anyone a good reason to take it up as a profession.

Perhaps once you work out why you can’t, you will understand why your shelves are not as full as they could be.

I tried it for over 30 years, but will never go back, you just couldn’t pay me enough.

Thank you to all those people who have shared this post.  I never expected such a massive response, but am glad that this message is getting out there.  I really hope that some people who are in a position to change just how bad it is for some drivers, can influence the powers that be to make changes for the better.  Perhaps some city and town councillors have seen this, and are willing to bring up these issues at their council meetings.  It surely cannot be too much to ask of a town/city to provide facilities for those who are doing so much to make sure their economies run and their shops and businesses are stocked with supplies.  I never wanted any luxuries, just somewhere safe to park, and some basic ablutions that are maintained to a reasonable standard.  I spent my nights away from my home and family for you, how much is it to ask that you at least give me access to some basic services.

There are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of licence holders just like me, who will no longer tolerate the conditions.  So the ball is firmly in the court of the councils to solve this problem.”

But people have always looked down on nasty dirty working class lorries and their drivers, clogging up the road, holding up traffic.

People seem to think that we’ll just hire more cheap drivers from abroad. Well there’s a problem with that. Apparently the Continent has a shortage of 400,000 qualified lorry drivers. According to the International Road Transport Union a quarter of all driving jobs cannot be filled. Poland has apparently got a bigger shortage of drivers than we have! Spain has cut the minimum age for getting your HGV licence down to 18 to try and get more people in. In Germany you can pass your driving test using Arabic.

But, tough though it may seem, people are going to have to pay more for delivery. Too often ‘free delivery’ means that we’ll underpay the driver to keep costs down.

Apparently the government is going to give 5000 temporary visas so companies can hire in foreign drivers. I would suggest that these visas cost £5,000 and the money is used to put somebody through their HGV test.

We’ll know when the problem is solved. When there are lorry parks handy for major towns, with safe parking, decent cafes and clean showers and toilets. After all, how many people want a job where they have to sleep in a wagon cab every night and use whatever toilet they can find? And when motorists slow down and flash their lights to let a lorry pull onto the road in front of them.

And when hell freezes over we’ll use sledges to transport stuff across the ice.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know, speak to the experts.

As a reviewer commented, “

As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”

The priorities of rural areas?

The basic numbers tell the tale, 16% of the English population live in London. Yet 17% of the English population live in rural areas. Yet when it comes to transport, “Local authorities in rural areas have far less funding available to them to support bus services. In 2017/18 expenditure in predominantly rural areas was £6.72 per resident to subsidise services, compared with £31.93 in predominantly urban areas. Expenditure to cover concessionary bus fares was £13.48 (rural) and £25.54 (urban) respectively.”

https://www.rsnonline.org.uk/spotlight-on-a-place-everyone-can-get-around

Now I don’t know about you but I was always told that rural bus services and similar couldn’t be run because there weren’t enough people. Urban bus services survived because of the sheer number of people who wanted to travel. Urban bus services benefited from a ‘critical mass’ that rural services would never equal.

But frankly urban bus services survive because governments over the years have hosed them with money to support their urban electorate.

Then there’s housing. ‘Nice houses in the country’ have always cost more. Follow the A592 into the Lake District from the south and play ‘spot the multi-million pound houses. The problem is that two bedroom ground floor flats are £185,000 if you can find them. Whilst to rent two bedroom flats are £650 per month if they’re not out on Airbnb. Try renting in summer. In Barrow (where a lot of people live who work in Windermere, a two bedroomed terraced house is under £500 a month and you can buy a modernised three bedroomed terraced house for the £185,000.

Because of the drive for ‘working from home,’ or at least ‘flexible working’ prices for houses outside major cities have risen by 10.8% over the pandemic, as opposed to a rise of 8.9% in the major cities.

In a county like Cumbria, a lot of houses in rural villages are now second homes, or are lived in by people who have retired to the county. As it is, Cumbria is a largely self-contained functional economic area, with 96 per cent of Cumbria’s residents working in Cumbria, and with 94 per cent of all jobs based in Cumbria filled by Cumbrian residents. The problem is that the residents are being forced to the periphery of the county where house prices are lower because it isn’t as pretty.
Before the pandemic I was talking to one big hotelier, he used almost entirely British staff and spent (from memory,) over £100,000 a year busing them in from the periphery of the county using hired coaches. It was costing so much he was looking at plans to build accommodation to house over a hundred staff ‘on-site’ in their own rooms. This was because the cost of borrowing the money to build to Lake District National Park standards was still lower than the cost of transporting staff. Obviously there were no staff to be had locally because you cannot afford to work in hospitality and live in the area.

I was talking to a chap who used to manage holiday cottages for an agency. They didn’t own the cottages, but managed them for the owners. My contact was the one who got phoned at 2am to be told that the microwave wasn’t working. When it came to cleaning the cottages between guests, there was a set sum in the budget. Initially there had been the hope that he could get local people to come in and do it, but there weren’t any local people available. He ended up with the mobile phone number for a lady from a rundown industrial town twenty miles away. He’d phone and give the lady the addresses of the house that wanted cleaning. She knew the rate per house. He turned up to meet them on one occasion, and out of a rather small car stepped the lady, her sister, her daughter, and two toddlers. The houses were cleaned and left immaculate and he would get a hand written invoice at the end of the week. He made a point of paying promptly. He knew they needed the money and he didn’t want to lose a team so competent.

I was talking to another chap who worked as an agricultural contractor. Thirty years ago farms would have employed local lads, but given the drop in food prices and the increase in house prices, you struggle to find local lad. Farmers just hire contractors instead. This particular chap was working with a round baler. He set off at some ridiculously early hour to get to the first farm. He then sat for an hour waiting for the hay to dry out ready to bale, watching the traffic on the road by the field grow steadily heavier.

When he finished working on that farm his next job was at another farm about fifteen miles down the road. After an hour winding his way through traffic he finally got there and managed to get that baled before the weather broke.

But for local people stuck in traffic I think it takes a lot to beat a knacker wagon driver I know. His round, collecting animals that have died on farm and smallholdings, takes him throughout most of Cumbria. He inches his way through the snow, makes his careful way through floodwater, and tries to avoid tourists, all on roads little wider that his wagon.

One day at the height of summer he ended up coming into Ambleside in the early afternoon. Because of the one way system, coming in from Coniston, he had to go the long way through Ambleside. Unfortunately the village is snarled solid and he’s stuck in traffic. It was a hot day and you can imagine the smell.

After half an hour of going nowhere a policeman approached his wagon and taps on the window. The knacker wound the window down and the policeman just said, “You, we are getting out of the village as soon as we can.”
To be fair to the police they cleared a one way street so he could go up it the wrong way. Once through the street he could turn right and they’d make sure the traffic was flowing well enough to get him out into open country.

Gratefully he made his way up the street to be met by a tourist travelling in the opposite direction. She got out of her car, berated him, swore at him, demanded he back and when he didn’t she squeezed her car past him, into the waiting arms of a policeman who’d come up to see what was going on. Apparently she’d ignored the road closed sign his colleague had put at the top of the street and as the knacker drove off, a stern faced policeman was taking down her details.

But yes, the way things are going, we’re going to struggle to have village communities and local culture. We already have communities in the Lake District where nobody lives any more. Even in places like Keswick nearly half the properties are holiday lets or second homes. Then there’s the explosion in Airbnb.

If you’re not careful you’ll end having a holiday home in the same village as your next door neighbours.

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts

Available from Amazon as paperback or kindle

and from everybody else as an ebook at

https://books2read.com/u/3yearv

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”