Monthly Archives: July 2021

Australian beef and how far ahead do you want to worry?

It has to be said that people do seem to enjoy a bit of good old fashioned gloom and despondency. Every silver lining has a cloud. As Noel Coward sang, “There are bad times just around the corner.”

‘They’re mad at Market Harborough

And livid at Leigh-on-Sea,

In Tunbridge Wells

You can hear the yells

Of woe-begone bourgeoisie.

We all get bitched about, lads,

Whoever our vote elects,

We know we’re up the spout, lads.

And that’s what England expects.

Hurray, hurray, hurray!

Trouble is on the way.

There are bad times just around the corner,

The horizon’s gloomy as can be,

There are black birds over

The grayish cliffs of Dover

And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC

We’re an unhappy breed

And very bored indeed

When reminded of something that Nelson said.

While the press and the politicians nag nag nag

We’ll wait until we drop down dead.’

It has to be admitted that the last five years have really pushed forward the frontiers of doomsaying. If I had a pound for every time somebody told me that this country would collapse to third world status, I’d probably have the cash to put in an offer and buy it.

The problem seems to be one of mental attitude. People are so delighted to find another thing to point the finger at and claim, ‘we’re all doomed’ that they don’t bother looking at the small print.

So I want to look at the ‘big picture’ by squinting closely at some of the detail. The current cry of woe is that thanks to leaving the EU and signing a deal with the Australians, our beef industry is doomed and the British public will have to eat beef produced using artificial hormones.

The pundits are starting to think this will be unlikely. “Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickard predicted that not much would change in the next two years, but significant change would be felt in 10-15 years’ time.”

Indeed, according to AHDB, since the start of 2020, Australian beef has been more expensive than UK produced beef. If we’d had a free trade deal with the Australians they might have been buying our beef, not the other way around. If anything, at the moment our beef price is held down by Irish imports from the EU. We’ve lived with cheaper Irish imports for well over a century.

Now obviously the Australian situation might be a blip. But Australia has seen a few bad bushfire years. Even without arguing whether climate change is man-made, (because that isn’t an argument for this blog post) it’s evident when looking at the past, climates do change. This is obvious, at the very least because we have had ice ages.   If we work on the principle that climate change is going to continue for at least another decade, (even if it’s cyclical and might start dropping in another century) by 2030 the Australians might even be net importers of beef.

Then what about dear old Blighty? In 2030/35 are we going to be enthusiastic importers of Australian beef? After all, it’s probably three general elections off, so gods alone know what sort of government we’ve got or what sort of regulation we have in place.
But according to current plans, by 2030, if you want a new car in the UK, it will have to be electric. If you buy it new house it almost certainly won’t have gas central heating, indeed by then, if your gas boiler fails, you will probably have to replace it with something else because nobody makes gas boilers any more. Now these new technologies might be cheaper, more efficient, and leave you with a larger disposable income, or they might not. I’ll let you decide for yourself how much gloom and doom you want to wallow in on this front.

Indeed, all sorts of things seem to be coming down the track. We appear to be getting more rain, and when it comes, it comes in larger quantities over a smaller period. So we will see more flooding. You remember all these houses that local authorities cheerfully allowed to be built on the flood plain? At what point is it going to be the sensible thing to just demolish them, return the flood plain to being a flood plain, and insist people have grass in their gardens rather than concreting them over to park cars on. That way water doesn’t run off as fast. And if they can no longer afford cars, then they might as well have grass to sit on, because they’re not going anywhere soon anyway. After all who will take a tourist flight when you’re accused of wanting to watch the world burn?

It’s remarkably easy to build an atmosphere of alarm and despondency. In fact the last year or so has shown us that a fair proportion of the population are perfectly happy to be frightened and made to stay in the house, provided they keep full salary and can ‘work from home’.

But looking fifteen years ahead is about as meaningful as asking to see the weather forecast that far ahead for one particular day and one particular place.

After all, in fifteen years will there be a UK? Will the UK, if it exists, be part of the EU again, or will the EU have split as well? Indeed looking at China, where the communist party has just celebrated a centenary, a hundred years is good going for a Chinese Dynasty.

Looking at agriculture, at the very least they’ll still need an agriculture. Even if they’re feeding the proles on kibble bars, they’ll still need somebody to grow the stuff. But when and how will the food be grown?
If we have heavier rainfall, even without rising sea levels some land might no longer be ploughable. Indeed there’s a strong argument for going back to farming water meadows properly. That will increase the need for grazing livestock, but on the other hand, if we lose lowland arable due to a sharp rise in the water table, we might be looking at ploughing further up the hill. I remember talking to one agronomist who commented that the finest crop of barley he’d ever seen was grown at over a thousand feet in North Cumbria.

So frankly beating your breast and bewailing the end of days because of a trade deal with the Australians that could have serious implications in ten to fifteen years’ time is frankly unprofessional. A competent doomsayer can find a score of better reasons for wailing and gnashing their teeth.


There again, what do I know. 

Available from Amazon in paperback or kindle.
Available from everywhere else as an ebook from here

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.”

Quick off the blocks? Soya and UK livestock.

It’s interesting watching people game the system to their advantage. I’ve observed various lobby groups looking remarkably smug as they produce their evidence. But in reality, they’re amateurs at gaming the system compared to our Sal.
Sal is no longer as young as she was. The days when she could keep up with a quad bike doing twenty miles an hour over several hundred yards have passed. But she’s still got good acceleration and she can still hit those top speeds.

Now on our way home from checking heifers, we travel together along one particular lane. There’s a short straight with a grass verge to the right, followed by two right angled bends, and then it’s into a comparatively long straight with a grass verge on both sides.

As I go along the first straight, Sal keeps up with me, running along the grass verge next to me. On the two bends it’s a bit more fraught because there’s no verge, but I slow down anyway, and she just trots behind the quad and trailer. Then as we go into the second bend the lane is wider. So she doesn’t just overtake me, she goes across the front of me so she can run up the left hand verge.

Of course because she cuts across me she ensures that I have to go more slowly, and by the time she gets onto the left hand verge she’s at full acceleration and away.
Me? I cheat as well, because I’ve been idling in fourth so that when we are on the straight, if there’s nothing about, I can accelerate as well. There’s a point when Sal stops looking over her shoulder to make sure I’m playing and just concentrates on running. I normally catch up with her about half way up the hill and we both slow down together so that we approach the junction at the end of the lane at a sedate walk. But she seems to enjoy it immensely. She gets home and flops down in the shade with the expression of a dog who has done her duty.

But there are others who game the system as well. All these farting British cows who are destroying the Amazon by eating soya.
The UK imports approximately 3.2 million tonnes of soya bean equivalents directly in the form of soya beans, meal and oil.

Chickens eat 345,000 tons

Pork takes 181,600 tons

Egg production takes 64,800 tons

Beef takes 60,800 tons

Fish takes 52,900 tons

Cows’ milk takes 29,000 tons

Turkey takes 23,600 tons

Cheese takes 23,200 tons

Other dairy 5,400 tons

All livestock feed uses of soya come to less than 800,000 tons. So livestock are eating 25% of our imported soya, and soya milk and human food takes the rest, yet farmers are the ones guilty of burning down the Amazon!

If you want to check the figures I recommend the come from the KPMG Soy reporting initiative 2017

But then we have to look to see exactly what sort of ‘soya’ is being used.

I have in front of me the ingredients list for a decent dairy cake. Not only do cows like it, Sal recommends it as well.

It starts with Barley, followed by Wheat Feed. To quote from one of the companies selling wheat feed, “Wheat feed is a by-product of flour milling. It comprises of wheat bran, endosperm and other starch screenings. Wheat feed is generally pelleted with the addition of a little water and for every tonne of wheat milled only 20kg of wheat feed is produced.” So it’s a waste product that farmers turn into high quality protein.

Then we have Maize distillers, this is another by-product which comes from the processing of Maize grain to produce industrial alcohol, normally in the form of ethanol which is used as a fossil fuel replacer.
This is followed in the list by Palm kernel expeller. Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) is a by-product of the palm oil extraction process from the fruit of the palm. There are doubts about palm oil but apparently, and according to WWF, it’s in close to 50% of the packaged products we find in supermarkets, everything from pizza, doughnuts and chocolate, to deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lipstick. It’s also used in animal feed and as a biofuel in many parts of the world. So when the consumers and supermarkets wean themselves off Palm Oil, farmers can step back from utilising their waste products.

Then we have what I assume is Sal’s favourite part, ‘products from the confectionery industry (maize sugar meal.)’ Described by one vendor as, “High energy from a balance of starch, sugar and oil and digestible fibre, Maize Sugar is a palatable blend of products from the bakery, pasta, confectionery, and breakfast cereal industries on a friable vegetable protein carrier.” If people weren’t so damned fussy it sounds like an excellent feed for them.

Then we have the first, and only, appearance of Soya. Soya (bean) hulls. Again, quoting one of the vendors, “Soybean hulls are a by-product of the extraction of oil from soybean seeds. After entering the oil mill, soybeans are screened to remove broken and damaged beans, and foreign material. The beans are then cracked, and their hulls, which mainly consist of the outer coats, are removed. Hulls are fibrous materials with no place in human food, but are very valuable for ruminants.”

Finally we’ve got Horse (Field) Beans. These are a variety of Vicia faba, they’re the ones with smaller, harder seeds that are fed to horses or other animals because they’re not suited to human consumption.
Finally for flavouring you have some cane molasses, calcium carbonate and sodium chloride.

So all those people who complain about UK cattle destroying the rain forest by eating soya are somewhat missing the point. Indeed I suggest they prove how well they can do without cattle by sitting down to a delicious bowl of barley and wheat feed porridge, fortified by maize distillers meal, flavoured with maize sugar meal and with a good sprinkling of ground soya hulls to provide them with the necessary roughage in their diet. After all, we’re being encouraged to cut out food waste. Personally I’d prefer to do it by feeding the waste to livestock and eating them.

It may well be that Brazilian or Argentinian livestock eat more soya than do ours. Fair enough, if you’re in the UK, buy British beef and dairy products. But frankly, if anybody has to hang their heads in shame for causing the destruction of the Amazon, it’s not UK cattle farmers.


There again, what do I know? Discuss the matter with the expert. Available as a paperback or kindle ebook from

And as an ebook from everybody else from

As a reviewer commented, “

You know how a lot of books or movies follow up with a sequel and it’s often a disappointing effort that never quite manages to beat or match its original?

Yeah well this isn’t one of them.

It doesn’t do justice or even feel fair to say “follow up” because in effect it’s just the second half of the same brilliant story.

Jim and his dogs have a world in which I become totally engrossed, involved and invested. Even if you haven’t so much as seen a working farm it won’t matter because the beauty is in the story telling and Jim is one of the greatest story tellers.

The perfect escape from the current global pandemic and highly recommended reading for everyone and anyone.”

What sort of rubbish are we supposed to feed livestock now?

There is a lot of discussion about food waste. I came across an article with the snappy title, “The UK wastes millions of tonnes of food every year: here’s how we can change that.” If you’re interested it’s at

The article makes some useful points, “In the case of pig farmers in the UK, this system is causing an industry-wide crisis. UK pig farms are governed by the highest regulatory standards in the world, to ensure the best health and welfare for the animals.

But if consumers keep demanding cheaper and cheaper meat, it could make UK pig production economically unsustainable, driving farmers out of business. If that happens, the UK would inevitably see an increase in imported pig meat which doesn’t comply with national standards – actively promoting poorer farming practices. For example, when reared in environments with a greater number of pigs per pen than UK standards, animals have lower access to food and water and lack stimulation, causing a much lower quality of life.”

The authors are absolutely right, we’ve watched the process happen when we introduced sow stalls and the EU didn’t. We merely exported our pig industry and consumers who could care less about pig welfare (but only by making an effort) just bought the stuff produced in the sow stalls they were supposed to be horrified about.

The answer to the problem is an old one. The authors recommend feeding food waste to pigs?
This is something that has been done for centuries but there is a major problem. Disease. In the UK and EU swill feeding Swill was banned in 2002 after the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) epidemic. There was a ‘strong suspicion’ that it was caused by illegally feeding untreated swill to pigs. The problem with swill is that the largest suppliers were the NHS and the armed forces. Both organisations were notorious at the time for the amount of cheap, poor quality food they bought from all round the world. If the swill had been cooked to a high enough temperature it would probably be safe. But by 2001 margins were so thin that it was impossible to economically survive if you were doing the job properly.

There again, countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand are promoting swill feeding, whilst the EU is moving back to feeding processed animal protein to pigs and poultry. We’ve walked that road before.

These ideas seem to move in cycles. The feeding of meat and bone meal to cattle started about the time of the American Civil war. During the First World War, it was actually compulsory for livestock feed companies to include it in livestock rations. During the Second World War it was again compulsory. I had nutritional advice leaflets issued by the Ministry of Agriculture which recommended it as an excellent feed for lactating dairy cows. Indeed I remember one feed rep coming onto the farm trying to interest my Father and me in a new calf milk powder. They were calling it chocolac. (Or something very similar.) Just out of interest I queried the ‘chocolate’ aspect.

“Oh no,” said the rep, “there’s no chocolate in it. It’s got added pigs blood. That’s what gives it the colour.”
Father and I just looked at each other and without a word spoken decided to give it a miss. Those who followed the science, used it.

Then not all that long after that, BSE and nvCJD exploded on the scene.

The problem is that Farming is fought over by so many different organisations, lobby groups and political factions, none of whom see anything like a big picture. So we’ll have environmental groups who want large chunks rewilding. I saw one bunch lobbying to have the Crown Estate rewilded. Some of the finest farmland in England but hey, obviously they’re not intending to eat. Or perhaps they don’t intend other people to eat.
Then we get the genuine pressure of people who want food to be cheap. We have people in the UK whose sole cooking facility is a kettle. I talked in a foodbank to a young man who had been ‘rehoused’. He’d been sleeping on the street because of circumstances and the council got him a flat. He went from sleeping on the pavement to sleeping on the floor of his flat. A couple of charities helped him furnish it, but there wasn’t the money for a cooker. Anyway he’d been in care and hadn’t a clue about cooking or food preparation. He couldn’t have used a cooker if he’d been given one. He was hoping for a microwave soon, but as his life savings amounted to about thirty seven pence, it wasn’t going to be a flash one.

Then we get those who are big into recycling and worry about getting to carbon zero. They have an agenda which doesn’t fit in too well with any of the others. So back in the 1970s our A level biology master got us all a cheap subscription to New Scientist and effectively taught us biology from that. But one short article has stuck with me. Researchers had noticed something the rest of us forget. Ruminants cannot digest cellulose. Ruminants aren’t really herbivores. In real terms they feed grass to bacteria and bacteria can digest cellulose. Ruminants then live on the bacteria.

So these researchers pointed out, in reality, it’s a waste of time giving ruminants too much decent quality protein. Yes, some of it gets past the rumen (there’s a lot of work done on ‘rumen bypass protein’) and the cow then digests it herself, rather than leaving it to be gobbled up by the bacteria. But feeding high quality protein to bacteria is just a waste. They can take urea and turn it into protein. They’re not fussy. They’re just amazingly efficient.
Obviously the researchers pointed out that ruminants are a good source of urea as well. But funnily enough they’re not keen on taking it direct. A lot of work was done. I remember reading an article in one of the farming magazines back then. A chap had mixed hen muck, (which is very rich in nitrogen and therefore a brilliant source of protein for bacteria) with (from memory) pressed sugar beet pulp. This is the stuff left when you get the sugar out of sugar beet, it’s pressed to squeeze out the extra water. He mixed equal parts of the two ingredients with a little rolled barley as a starter. He mixed it by shovelling it into a muckspreader which he emptied into an empty silage clamp. When the clamp was full, he covered it with a plastic sheet to keep the air out. It produced an excellent feed that fattened bullocks over winter.

This is excellent news, environmentally. Actually using human waste is theoretically safer, less chance of listeria. Alas humans massively contaminate their wastes with all sorts of disgusting chemicals, so it’s barely fit to spread on farmland as fertiliser. Perhaps if they spent less time pontificating about how green they were and spent more time making sure the muck they produce was properly looked after, we’d all have a smaller environmental footprint.



There again, what do I know?
Available from Amazon in paperback or on kindle

And available from everybody else at

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!”

Income Forgone

There is a reason for governments getting involved in controlling food prices. Hungry people riot and overthrow governments. The Arab ‘Spring’ is perhaps the most recent example of the chaos caused because the wheat price rose and various states no longer had the income to subsidise the price of food. Unfortunately food prices are regressive. There is a lot of discussion about regressive taxation, (“If the activity being taxed is more likely to be carried out by the poor and less likely to be carried out by the rich, the tax may be considered regressive.”) but in in reality food prices are regressive.

If food prices go up with a bang, the prosperous family might well have to cut back on the skinny vegan decaf cappuccino but needn’t think twice about having a holiday home in Cornwall as well as the Dordogne. The poor family will not be able to afford new shoes.

So I have no problem with government stepping in to subsidise food prices. Indeed, governments have been stepping in to control the market since the days of ancient Athens, if not earlier. Because hungry people riot and overthrow governments.

Now the UK government is coming up with a whole new system. It’s ELMS, the Environmental Land Management System. Now back in 2012, Andersons Farm Business Consultants did a piece of work for government. Back then we were still in the EU, but ELMS (or N (for new) ELMS) was on the stocks. It’s not a uniquely UK scheme, it’s just that our version has parted company with the EU parent.

The purpose of their work? To quote from the summary, “An essential precursor to setting payments is the calculation of income foregone. This contract forms and integral part of that process – the production of cost data for the items that are fundamental to the calculation of income foregone.”

And now, nine years later, they’re starting to trial the precursors of ELMS. But income forgone is still in there.

To quote the Oxford Dictionary of Agriculture and Land Management, income forgone is, “A frequently used term within the payment calculations of agri-environment and other land management schemes. Within this specific context it is usually the agricultural income that has been foregone in adapting to required management prescriptions to comply with the scheme conditions. Payments might also include costs of additional management operations and incentivization…. …”

The definition continues but behind a paywall. Between ourselves, it strikes me that we’ve taken a wrong turning if we need a specific dictionary of agriculture and land management! Especially a 464 page paperback!

Still, the principle of ‘income forgone’ is easier to show by example than explain in theory. Assume that you have a field that grows barley and leaves you an annual income of £1000. If you put it into an environmental scheme, if might cost you £2000 to do the capital works necessary. So on an income forgone payment system you’ll be given the £2000 and you’ll be paid a £1000 a year. That way, you’re no worse off at the end of it.

The treasury likes this system. It convinces them that they’re keeping costs down and private citizens are not growing rich on public money. As a tax payer I can sympathise with this.

There is unfortunately an underlying structural problem. As I pointed out earlier, government works to keep food prices down. This has been a long term policy, followed by the EU when we were part of it. If you want to read more on this topic I put together a few figures here.

So on one hand government is keeping prices down, thus keeping agricultural incomes down. On the other hand they are then paying farmers on an ‘income forgone’ basis having made damned sure the income the farmers are forgoing is as low as possible.

There are two ways to look at this. One is to point out that it is, at the very least, inequitable.

But the other is to regard it as the way forward. Why is government only using income forgone with agriculture? Why isn’t the principle being employed more widely?
After all, let us take the treasury. An employee there would be assessed and it would be pointed out that given the jobs available where they live, if she wasn’t a deputy undersecretary, she’s be on the minimum wage working in a call centre. So on the income forgone principle, they’ll pay her the minimum wage but also an allowance to cover second class travel to work. After all, the last thing we want is for private citizens to grow rich on public money!


There again, what do I know? Speak to the expert.

In paperback and kindle from Amazon

And from everybody else from

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”