Monthly Archives: February 2022

Is now the time to halt all environmental schemes?

At the moment we are not in a good position. The west has said to Putin, ‘You’re not the Messiah, you’re a very naughty boy. We’re not going to let you play with our football.” It’s then added, “Oh but you’ll still sell us wheat won’t you?”
Perhaps Putin is going to just say, “Obesity is a major problem in the west, it’ll do you all good to eat less.”

The trouble is that Russia and the Ukraine have been vying for the position of the world’s largest grain exporters for some time. From 2019

To quote, “Russia has been the global grain exporter top dog for the last three years, but as the agricultural marketing year ended on June 30, it looks like Ukraine has snatched the title back from its rival.”

The problem is, it’s awfully difficult to plant grain when somebody is fighting a major war over the field you intended to be working in. Putin hasn’t parked his tanks on your lawn, he’s driving them over lunch. So now the quandary, do you want a quick war, over in a month so that the Ukrainians, watched over by their Russian siblings, can plant those fields, then later in the year we can grovel to Putin asking him to sell us the grain? Or do you want the Ukrainians to hang on, even give Putin a bloody nose and make him think again about crushing democracies, but then find bread is going to be awfully expensive come this winter (but look on the bright side, you won’t be able to afford the gas or electric to make toast). Luckily in the UK we don’t buy much grain from the Ukraine or Russia, but then we don’t buy much gas from Russia but the market was disrupted and our gas supplies got a lot more expensive. The same will probably happen with grain. To quote CNN Business

Concerns about an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine are roiling the market for agricultural products like wheat at a time when global food prices are already near 10-year highs.

Russia is the world’s top exporter of wheat. Ukraine is also a significant exporter of both wheat and corn. That’s sending prices for grains on a bumpy ride as investors assess the potential for conflict.

“There’s certainly volatility based on what is going on,” said Peter Meyer, head of grain analytics at S&P Global Platts.

Interference in shipments of wheat or corn from Russia and Ukraine could exacerbate food inflation, most notably in parts of the world that depend on them for supplies.

Global food prices rose as much as 28% in 2021, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and are expected to continue to climb this year due to persistent supply chain issues.

“Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat and corn and any disruption to its exports would lead to a spike in global prices,” said Ophelia Coutts, a Russia analyst at the global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. “A combination of high food and energy prices will accentuate a cost-of-living crisis and increase the potential for civil unrest in many places, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.”

Let’s be brutally honest about it, given the massive hike in the price of fertilisers and fuel, the price of grain needed to go up, even if Putin wasn’t playing silly beggars on the Dnieper.

But what do we do about it?
Well in the west there is a window. Boris could, probably without parliamentary permission, suspend all environmental schemes that took land out of production. He’d probably have to do it for a fixed period (say two or three years) and he could encourage grain production.

Ideally the Americans and the EU would copy us. Yes it would probably be bad for the environment, ploughing releases CO2 back into the atmosphere, but look at the bright side, you’d be able to afford to eat next year and we might not see chaos rip through Africa and the Middle East when they couldn’t afford bread.

With regard to energy Boris has got severe problems, not of his own making. A large proportion of a previous generation of our political leaders were gutless nonentities who didn’t have the courage to give us a rational energy policy.
Personally I think he should lay a bill before parliament allowing fracking for a fixed term of years. It should also lay down strict regulations, to be strictly enforced, as to what you can put down the sewers, then we can use sewage sludge as fertiliser. That way we can still afford to grow the food we need.

Also Rolls Royce are doing work on small nuclear reactors that will serve a town. (They’re effectively nuclear sub reactors). This programme should be expedited! Those towns that don’t want one can buy ridiculously expensive gas instead.

The advantage of putting it before parliament is that it will make MPs make a stand. If they vote against it, when constituents come crying to them because they cannot afford to heat their homes or buy food, then the MP who voted against this can tell them that they can keep warm by basking in the smug moral glow the MP got voting against it.

We’re imposing sanctions that will stop the Russians having access to financial service. Putin can impose sanctions which will mean a lot of the world will have less access to food.

I don’t know about you but I can go a lot longer without dealing with the bank than I can without lunch.


There again, what do I know, ask an expert

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.”

Rural and wanting a courier.

I was left asking, is Hermes out of condition?

Now we live at the actual point within our postcode area that the postcode refers to. This can happen with you in a rural area. Rural postcodes here in the UK can be quite big. So from any given point in the post code you cannot see all the houses in it. But in our case, the point your satnav will bring you to is the top of our drive.

Like all these things it has advantages and disadvantages. It’s easy enough to tell people how to find us, even if they haven’t a satnav they can still look at google maps before they set off and mark us on a proper map.

It does have disadvantages, we’re where couriers arrive, almost always looking for somebody else. So I just direct them to their proper destination. Indeed over the years I’ve got to sort of know some of them. One of them from DHL is an excellent driver, he can casually back down any lane to let others through, and does. Another driver got out of his van, saw me walking towards him and said with a big grin, “At last, I’ve got one for you.”

Then there are the various fast food delivery companies. Unlike couriers who tend to arrive during the day, the fast food companies turn up in the evening. It has been pointed out that I could live forever of pizza that other people have paid for. But there are problems. Like the night we had a knock on the door about midnight to discover two Bulgarians standing there proffering a takeaway. They spoke virtually no English and our Bulgarian is distinctly rusty. One held out his phone. This means a swift retreat to find reading glasses. The poor beggars had been given the wrong post code. The right one was in the order but whoever had sent them had put the wrong one on the bottom of the bit they would look at.

I challenge you to explain that in Bulgarian!
Anyway eventually the information was conveyed and off they went, they were only six miles away from where they should have been.

But every so often I do get stuff on line. I was wanting a kneeling chair. (I’m ‘sitting on it’ now) and what with one thing and another I wasn’t going to get into town for a while. I didn’t have time to make a special trip, and a friend of mine showed me his chair which was both comfortable and could be adjusted to fit me. So he emailed me the link and I bought it off Amazon.

I ordered it on the Saturday. I decided not to pay extra for speedy delivery and it was fine with me if it came on Tuesday.

It arrived on Sunday morning. But still, I’d not paid extra.

So I assembled it. But one part (part e) is a pin which should have two threaded ends so that you can put the nuts on them to hold it in place. As you can see from the photo, somebody in the factory hadn’t threaded it.

Muttering to myself, I put the whole damned lot back in the box to return. All I needed was somebody to send me part e, but that isn’t apparently possible. So I ‘told Amazon’ and their web site said that Hermes would collect our parcel “on next business day (Mon-Fri: 8 AM – 8 PM, excluding Bank Holidays), as long as the collection is booked before 11 PM local time.”

We sort of made sure somebody was about all day on Monday but nothing happened. So I contacted Amazon and in the chat I was told that I had to give them three working days.

I pointed out some of us have to work for a living, and I had livestock to feed etc. I hadn’t time to sit with my brain in neutral waiting for the winged messenger of the gods to remember me.
Anyway after three working days, nothing happened. Indeed the Hermes page showed (and still shows) that they’re about to collect it. I mean, it’s barely been a fortnight since they were asked.

When they named the company, Hermes, did they know that “Hermes is the winged herald and messenger of the Olympian gods. In addition, he is also a divine trickster, and the god of roads, flocks, commerce, and thieves.”


Apparently I could take it into the one shop in our local town which deals with Hermes. (I’m not entirely sure whether the others won’t or whether Hermes cherishes some sort of air of exclusivity.)
The problem here, and a lot of rural people will doubtless back me up on this, I buy on line when I haven’t got time to keep going into town. I use couriers to ship stuff I don’t have the time to ship myself. Then there is the fact that Hermes think that we’ve nothing better to do that to sit for twelve hours a day keeping an eye out for them, on the assumption that they will, one day, turn up. Well it’s thirteen days and counting as I write this. Perhaps the winged messenger of the Gods is a touch out of condition?

But as a business model, is it anywhere near sustainable? Something is shipped from the People’s Republic of China, put in a warehouse, shipped out to a destination somewhere in England. One small part is faulty, so it’s stuck back in the box, eventually shipped back to the warehouse. Then what happens? Somehow I cannot imagine that the warehouse manager gets on the phone to a colleague in China and says, “Can you have a word with Old Wang Mang on the lathe, he’s letting part e slip through without threading it again. Oh and drop us another part e in the post will you please.”

So what happens to all these kneeling chairs and other things which are faulty? Do they get sent back to China in disgrace? (I have a mental picture of the battered tramp steamer of shame making its slow way back, avoiding busy shipping lanes and only entering harbours late at night)

Are they sold off dirt cheap to some bright lad or lass who goes through them, salvages what they can and sells them from a market stall in Barnsley?

Enquiring minds want to know.

But anyway, whilst I was getting irritated with Hermes it suddenly occurred to me that it might make more sense to just fix it myself.

I took offending part e out to the workshop and luckily the smallest die in my tap and die set fitted it. So I threaded it, took it back in the house, assembled the chair and I’m now kneeling/sitting on it. It takes getting used to but I’m happy enough with it.
Hermes on the other hand…….


I recommend dealing with the eternally reliable.

Or from

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.”

Preparing for war?

One job I have, every year, is cutting next year’s firewood. This winter I’ve been tidying up corners of the yard from time to time, mainly with an axe and chainsaw. Out here (a mile from a gas terminal) we don’t have gas, and one of our main sources of heat is the open fire.

One side effect is that I’ve been able to watch gas prices with some dispassion. After all, the oil we need for our cooker hasn’t been capped or anything, it’s just gone up and the media hasn’t particularly bewailed our fate. Still, whilst cutting next year’s firewood (hopefully some will be for the year after as well) I do wonder what the world will be like when we come to use it.

I’ve been watching the Ukraine with rather more interest than I’ve been watching gas prices. Some of the commentators have said things along the lines of, ‘The Russians are waiting for a cold spell, as January has been too warm and they want a sharp frost for the tanks.’ If so, they could be disappointed, because the forecast for February in Kiev (or Kyiv) is to be milder than usual. If the Russians don’t invade, the weather might be the reason.

Frankly I can think of no other reasons. We’ve had a lot of posturing but I think it’s becoming obvious that the Ukrainians are being hung out to dry. People are threatening economic sanctions, but with the Germans depending on Russian Gas, and the EU seeming to be equivocal on the level of sanctions they would impose, I can see Putin assuming that people are going to posture but now do anything.

From his point of view, he could do with a cold snap, the ground hard enough for his tanks, and the wind biting enough to get Germans turning up their central heating.

But from a farming point of view, what does it all mean? Well the EU imported 13.6 million tons of grain from the Ukraine. Most maize, but to put it in proportion, the UK produced about that amount of wheat in 2018, so it’s a lot. Given the broad grain fields of the Ukraine are classic tank country, either they’ll be under Russian control or nobody will be ploughing them.

But at the time when we suddenly need more grain, the price of gas has gone through the roof, pushing up the price of fertilisers. In December 2020, imported Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser was £217 a ton. In December 2021 the same fertiliser went up to £632 a ton. I’ve talked to a lot of farmers and a surprising number of them are assuming their yields will drop because they cannot afford to buy the usual inputs.

On top of that, the pressure on agriculture from all the environmental lobby groups, the general public and even the government, is to ‘go green’ and do more environmental things. I’ve looked carefully at the new Sustainable Farming Incentive. Like the cry to ‘plant for trees to save the world,’ it is impossible to see how we can keep up output and join these schemes.

There’s a general feeling that government will have to step in this summer and do something to hold gas prices down, perhaps by a subsidy to the suppliers who’ll pay it back when the price comes down. If the price comes down. But I think the situation is going to get far more difficult than that. If there is a war in the Ukraine, it’ll be more than gas prices that go up.

I wonder if next year, when I’m burning that wood, I’ll be reading up on a Defra scheme to increase food production, perhaps by encouraging farmers to use more sewage sludge as fertiliser, and to farm more intensively? Perhaps a Russian invasion will be turned back by Extinction Rebellion protestors gluing themselves to the roads in front of the tanks; on the grounds that the tanks have diesel engines and they’re polluting the environment. I suspect one scenario is about as likely as the other.



There again, what do I know, ask an expert

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?”