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?”

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15 thoughts on “Preparing for war?

  1. rootsandroutes2012 February 2, 2022 at 5:15 am Reply

    The use of sewage sludge looks obvious, doesn’t it… until you stop to think about what we all put into it now in the way of ‘additives’ which simply didn’t exist when the sludge was last in widespread use.

    • jwebster2 February 2, 2022 at 6:24 am Reply

      Well people will just stop using the additives or dropping them down the toilet. Anybody whose sewage falls below standard should be made to pay to have it treated and brought up to spec 🙂
      Actually it is monitored very closely now before it can be spread, but the public will have to face up to the fact that they have a responsibility. After all, if they don’t want to be part of the public system they can put in a septic tank and deal with the issue themselves 🙂

      • Dan Holdsworth February 2, 2022 at 11:20 am

        The real problem here is heavy metals in the sludge. First it was lead from petrol and now we’re seeing various weird and wonderful things coming out of car catalytic exhausts, all of which are not what you’d want spreading on the land.

      • jwebster2 February 2, 2022 at 11:23 am

        Yes in the UK they’ve been checking sewage sludge pretty rigorously for a lot of years because of these very issues 😦

  2. Eddy Winko February 2, 2022 at 7:10 am Reply

    Good to know that our humanure is increasing in value, I should have a couple of cubic this year 🙂
    I heard a rumour that Russia is waiting until the Olympics is over, Putin doesn’t want to upset Xi.

  3. jwebster2 February 2, 2022 at 7:36 am Reply

    That would take it to February 22nd
    BBC forecasts only go up to the 15th

    If anything it looks to be getting milder so who knows?

  4. Books & Bonsai February 2, 2022 at 8:32 am Reply

    There seems to be a shortage of handcarts wherever you look, Jim…

  5. Dan Holdsworth February 2, 2022 at 9:21 am Reply

    There’s another reason why Putin is feeling bullish: the Germans have given in to their version of the Great Green Blob, that noisily vocal emoting but not thinking part of the population whose opinions seem to drive most of government thinking these days (an autistic schoolgirl acting as a mouthpiece for her deeply biased parents, skipping school to exhort lots of other schoolkids to similarly skip school?).

    What is the safest, most effective way to generate electrical power in huge bulk which is also “climate safe”? Easy, that would be nuclear fission in one or other guise.

    The German Great Green Blob is convinced that this is dangerous, and has spoken ex-cathedra and ordained that all German nuclear plants be shut down. Germany, an industrial powerhouse, biggest economy in Europe, has just been forced into economic suicide by uneducated plonkers, and guess what their economy, power generation and domestic heat source now consists of?

    Gas. Methane gas. Something that Germany doesn’t have very much of locally, and something which Putin has oodles of. Now, the Germans effectively control the EU, so if the Germans are merely shouting a bit and doing nothing else about Putin, then this little Russian czar can count himself safe from any action from Europe.

    • jwebster2 February 2, 2022 at 10:22 am Reply

      I live within the ‘blast radius’ of two nuclear power stations and even nearer a ship yard that puts reactors into submarines.
      The damage to my environment has been done by people burning coal and gas, not by people dealing nuclear.

  6. Stevie Turner February 2, 2022 at 10:20 am Reply

    I once worked for a lime & fertiliser company, and as well as the aforementioned two they also spread Fibrophoss on the fields. This is a cheap fertiliser made from sugar beet sludge, and here in Bury St. Edmunds we have a sugar factory on our doorstep.

    • jwebster2 February 2, 2022 at 10:23 am Reply

      Yes, it’s good but doesn’t travel far because it gets snapped up locally.
      But that sort of recycling farming has been doing for years. We’re an industry held together by shit and baler twine 🙂

  7. Cathy Cade February 2, 2022 at 12:57 pm Reply

    Could we set up a funding appeal, do you think, to help those Extinction Rebellion guys travel out to the Ukraine?

    • jwebster2 February 2, 2022 at 1:01 pm Reply

      Certainly I think setting up some sort of public subscription would be a charitable act worthy of a good citizen 🙂

  8. Jack Eason February 4, 2022 at 7:39 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from Jim

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