Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!”

Coping with young ladies of uncertain temperament

I used to boast at one time that in our dairy herd we had every colour of cow, other than green. Green would be far too difficult to spot when out at grass. (Actually Black and White cows, in the early morning, can be damned difficult to spot when they’re standing against a hedge line. They’re woodland animals wearing woodland camo). But when you work with different breeds you soon begin to spot that some breeds have their own traits. So Simis were tended towards the quieter end of the spectrum. Indeed when we let cows into the parlour, the first eight in would always be Simis. You’d not see a black and white until the second tranche.

Ayrshires were fine but somehow ‘independent.’ We dried off a couple of old Ayrshire milk cows and walked them down to spend a couple of months with some heifers. The idea was that it would be a rest for them. They arrived home before we did. They obviously wanted to stay with the main herd, no matter what we thought.

Friesians, or at least ‘Black and White’ are the default. They’re the standard domesticated dairy cow. But I remember talking to a vet who had had to TB test a small suckler herd. This herd was a mixture of older dairy cows the farmer hadn’t sold, and younger Angus, Hereford and similar suckler cows he’d purchased. To TB test them they tied them up by the neck in a shippon and tested them that way. There might have been ten or a dozen of them.

The first time they tested them, the old dairy cows were easy to tie up, after all they’d been tied up twice a day, every day, for years. The others were a little more exciting! But the following year when they came to test them, the suckler cows were easy enough, whereas the old dairy cows were distinctly skittish, having almost forgotten how these things were done. I suspect that perhaps Black and Whites have to be constantly handled to keep them properly domesticated.

We did have some Black and White cows that had been bought out of a dispersal sale. They’d been housed inside all year round and had milked through a big rotary parlour. Until they calved we turned them out with some heifers. The first day it rained the cows ran, en masse to the tallest hedge and huddled under it. The heifers stood there in the rain, grazing happily, wondering what the fuss was about. When I went out to give everybody a handful of cake, the cows glared at me, it was obviously my fault, and standards had obviously fallen in recent years.

Jersey cattle are something else. I always found them good to work with, but if anything went wrong it was ‘Your’ fault and ‘You’ were going to suffer. They could be flighty, and Jersey bulls are notorious in some circles for being bad to work with.
Anyway we had to load about fourteen heifers out of a field. They were Jersey cross Black and White. We made a pen of gates and quietly walked them into it. Backed the trailer up to the gate and loaded five. By that time three had already jumped out (one without touching the gate, which is impressive.) We took the five to the other field and went back for the next load.
We got them all back into the pen and loaded another four before the others left.
The problem is that the five now left in the field had self-selected as excitable. So something had to be done. I deployed the plastic dog.

Every day I went into the field with a bucket of cake. On the first day I had to go to them. On the second day we met half way. On the third day they followed me. They wouldn’t go into the pen, and there was a pony looking over the hedge at them which didn’t help. But still they ate the cake near the pen. After a week I got them eating in the pen, and by the end of the second week some of them were waiting in the pen for me.

Finally I got them used to the pen being smaller, and even to having the gate shut whilst they ate.

It is said that timing is the secret of good comedy. It’s certainly the secret of moving livestock. If the landrover and trailer had appeared before the heifers got into the pen they’d have suspected something was going on. So we had to time things very carefully. I had the heifers in the pen, eating with the gate shut, as the landrover drove into the field. Then, with three of us making sure that they couldn’t jump out, we quietly moved them in the direction of the trailer. Eventually one of them virtually ran up the ramp, and with that, the other four followed meekly after her.

Somebody once commented to my lady wife that she’d seen this shirt or jumper or something with pigs and sheep on and wondered if it was the sort of thing I’d like.
My lady wife just said, “Not really, Jim’s a cowman.”

♥♥♥♥

Anyway, something to keep you out of trouble. There’s never anything on the telly anyway.

When Storth arrives home after a long absence, there’s are a few things that need sorting out. Sometimes they can be more complicated than you initially thought.
But at least there are opportunities for an honest man to make money, with maidens to be rescued and tyrants slain, or was it the other way about.
And who uses energy carbines any more? Military fashions have moved on.

————————————————————————————————————————

“You are Storth, ex-pilot and thief.”

“I have done rather more than that.” Storth sounded genuinely aggrieved.

“Yes but this is meant to be an identity check, not a charge sheet. We also felt mercenary, smuggler and thief verged on the tautological.”

“Oh, well I’m Storth.”

“And you are Hutton, wife of Storth, just a thief.”

“You could call me ‘Hutton, wife of Storth, housewife and thief’ if it makes it any better for your records.”

A change in the tide, cheap food?

Well, are food prices going to rise? After all, governments have successfully held prices down for decades. Milk is cheaper in the shops in cash terms than it was back in the 1990s. Is the tide changing?
One advantage of living on the side of Morecambe Bay is that you get used to the tides. I once spent some time in Scarborough and yes the tide goes out, but frankly it’s not what I’d call spectacular. Here in Morecambe Bay when it goes out, it literally goes miles. Over seven miles at times. So when the tide changes, things obviously change. And I’m wondering whether we’re about to see another turn of the tide. The combination of carbon zero, Brexit, and Covid has been a perfect storm.

Now since Peter Mandelson and New Labour announced they were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich so long as they pay their taxes,” the economy has shifted. I don’t get upset about the ‘gig economy’ because for most self-employed people that’s what self-employment is. But we’ve had industries growing up as parasites on others. So Airbnb can become what is effectively the world’s biggest hotel chain but dumps all the capital, maintenance and staffing costs onto its ‘partners.’ Similarly Uber managed to become one the biggest taxi companies without owning a single car or employing drivers, but instead pushed all those costs down the supply chain onto the shoulders of its ‘partners.’ It has taken court cases and old fashioned trade unions to get Uber to start to change its ways.

Then we’ve had over a decade of Quantitative easing. To quote from the Guardian (and in turn from the Bank of England) “QE enriches those who have already accumulated enough assets such that they generate sufficient income without the need to liquidate their accumulated capital base. As the Bank itself determined in a 2012 paper analysing, among other things, the distributional effects of QE, “the top 5% of households own 40% of the assets,” and hence they have been the primary beneficiaries of the rampant asset price inflation following the financial crisis of 2008 and large devaluation in sterling.”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2016/sep/28/quantitative-easing-qe-pernicious-effects-favour-wealthy-tax-middle-class

But all these attempts to ‘drive cost out of the system’ are starting to run into the sand. So now haulage has started to be a serious cost, at two levels. Shipping costs have gone through the roof. I was talking to an old chap who used to go round farms and sell tools from a van. His business model, twenty years or so ago, was to fill a forty foot container from suppliers in China and over the next couple of years, he’d sell the contents and that’s how he made a living. He retired about four years ago, and after three years he discovered he was going out of his mind with boredom. So he started up again and aged seventy he’s back on the road. But when he tried to get his container, the Chinese suppliers were still there, but the cost of a container for somebody just hiring one occasionally, had gone up from £2,000 to over £20,000. As he said, suddenly there was no money in it.

Then we have the shortage of wagon drivers. Plus a shortage of people to do field work, and the shortage of labour has crept into other industries as well. The problem is, a lot of these people are working for the ‘living wage,’ if they are lucky. I saw one care firm boasting it paid £9 an hour, but then you discover that this doesn’t include travelling time between the homes of your clients, and for that time you’re not paid but will get your petrol or bus fare. So the laws of supply and demand should lead to wages going up.

Now a lot of well-paid people are demanding that we import cheap labour from abroad. Keep prices down. Heaven forfend that they have to pay more for a skinny latte.

Admittedly with the end of furlough, we could see people coming back onto the job market. Apparently a lot of those on furlough work in aviation, foreign travel and suchlike. Frankly are there jobs for them to come back to or are they facing redundancy? It might be as good a time to become redundant as any, especially if you’re willing to splash out on your HGV.

But the other parts of the perfect storm are hitting at the same time. Even if you do keep people on minimum wage, that’s going to have to rise to cover the increasing prices. I’ve already mentioned haulage, the increase in the cost of a container alone could add about 20p to a kilo of oranges. But then, just as UK government advisers are telling the government we can import food, just like Singapore does, the Singapore government are stressing they’re increasing the proportion of food produced at home. For small city state this is tricky, but their current plan is to go from 10% self-sufficiency to 30% self-sufficiency by 2030.

https://www.gov.sg/article/food-security-its-not-just-about-the-eggs

Even wealthy Singapore states ““Although import source diversification has served us well, COVID-19 underscores the importance of having a buffer in case of global supply disruptions.”
 

So if Singapore worries that food might not be out there to import, why on earth should we assume it will be out there to import cheaply?

And then we’ve got carbon neutrality. This is pretty well going to jack the price up of a lot of things. If you’ve got gas central heating, when your boiler gives out, you probably won’t have gas central heating any more, you’ll have to buy a heat pump. Similarly have you considered how you’ll charge up your next ‘electric’ car? A neighbour of ours has had Three Phase electricity brought to his premises because it makes charging a car faster and cheaper.  How many people can do that? I know people who cannot even park their car within sight of their flat, never mind dangle a cable out of their fifth floor window to charge it. As a country we will need a lot more infrastructure to cope with the shift to charging cars, and a lot more generating capacity. None of it is cheap and somebody will have to pay for it. Don’t expect cheap electric at any time soon.

But if you get wages rising because of a shortage of workers, followed by costs rising because of increased haulage, energy costs, and rising wages, you then have the circle complete itself because workers will want more money because they’re struggling due to the increased cost of living. Will we see inflation back?
Personally, if I had a lot of money borrowed, I’d be keen to lock it in for as long as possible at as low a rate as possible. After all, I’ve farmed with an overdraught rate of 23%. It makes your eyes water.

♥♥♥♥

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

Available in paperback or on kindle from Amazon

or from everybody else as an ebook from

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”

Lorry Drivers, a symptom?

I’ve worked a lot with lorry drivers over the years. Normally we get the good ones, as the other sort don’t make it down the lanes. But at the moment there’s a shortage. Yet I can remember Bob Bojduniak of Farm Brief mentioning to me over twenty years ago that the various agricultural supply companies were telling him then that they struggled to get drivers.
One problem is that apparently the average is 55 (so still younger than farmers) and more have retired recently. Indeed men of that age can be particularly vulnerable to heart and similar issues, and if you get put on medication, you lose your licence.
It has to be said that covid hit the number of drivers. The number passing their test fell from 40,000 to 15,000 a year. Hopefully that is something that can be easily remedied.
But what about the cost of the test? The problem is the cost of training. It’s probably going to cost between two and three thousand pounds, which is a lot of money to put out there for somebody who’s not on good money and already has a family to support.
But here we run into another issue. If you’ve just splashed out two grand (and meant your family doesn’t get a holiday this year) the pressure on you to pass increases. But even if you do pass, what’s the money like?
According to Tomasz Oryński, a truck driver and journalist based in Scotland, “In 2010, the median HGV driver in the UK earned 51% more per hour than the median supermarket cashier. By 2020, the premium was only 27%… Why would I want to be a truck driver, with all the responsibility, the long, unpredictable hours, if I can go to Aldi and earn £11.30 an hour stacking shelves?”

A number of years a lorry driver I know saw an advert to drive with Eddie Stobart. They had a good image, the drivers all got a uniform. But when this chap applied for the job and they told him the salary, somewhat to their surprise he turned them down. He was on better money just hauling stone in a quarry and delivering it to sites in the area.
The major retailers have negotiated tight contracts with their suppliers. Part of the cost the supplier has to meet is getting their product to the retailer. So obviously driver wages are among the things that have been driven steadily down as the retailers drive costs out of the system. It’s something we’ve seen in farming where some crops are now only viable if you can get gangs of cheap labour to harvest them. The retailers know what the public are willing to pay. (They’ve to the data thanks to loyalty cards and similar. Consumers can protest away as much as they want, the computer tells the retailer what consumers do, as opposed to what they say they do.)

This leads to two more issues. The first, the simple one, is how to get more drivers. The second is more difficult, how to get more money into the supply chain, for farmers, drivers and all the others being squeezed.
The driver issue is not as difficult as people seem to think. A lad I know joined the army. In the first six weeks he did his basic training and passed out as a soldier. Then he had six weeks driving and the army put him through a lot of tests. He ended up qualified for everything but petrol tankers.
Rather than trying to get young people into universities where they’ll end up paying through the nose for a qualification that just leaves them in debt, the government could put some of them through their HGV.
Whilst I recognise the additional advantages of a degree in character formation etc, I would humbly suggest that working as an HGV driver could probably match it with lived experience. It would certainly open the eyes of young people and give them an unparalleled insight into the way the world really works.
Indeed I’d suggest that for a budding poet or novelist it would be a far more useful training that a literature or creative writing qualification. It’s the sort of live where if you keep your eyes open, the stories just keep crawling out. Not only that, but the time spent on your own gives plenty of time for contemplating verse forms.

The other issue is getting money back into the supply chain. Here the problem is bigger. People are used to spending less on food and it means their disposable income goes further. Increase the cost of food then people will have less money to spend on other stuff. Other sectors of the economy will take a hit.
On top of that, we’re probably going into a more expensive time. It’s becoming obvious that achieving net zero isn’t going to be cheap and consumers (whether as consumers or tax payers) are the only people who can fund it. The need to pay more for transport, heating, clothing (as we lose the cheap stuff from the China) and similar is going to hit people in the pocket. Government isn’t going to want food prices going up at the same time.
Also diets are going to change. No surprise there, they’ve always changed. But now there are other drivers. Propaganda about Brazilian beef cattle isn’t going to be the main cause. Climate change and legislation are going to drive it. Take rape oil. Oil Seed Rape is now a far more difficult crop to grow because of the ban on various insecticides.
According to December 2020 Farming Statistics – final crop areas, yields, livestock populations and agricultural workforce at 1 June 2020 United Kingdom
“The oilseed rape harvest has shown a decrease of 41% to just over 1.0 million tonnes in 2020. This was caused by a decrease of 28% in the planted area and a decrease in total oilseed rape yield of 17%, from 3.3 tonnes per hectare in 2019 to 2.7 tonnes per hectare in 2020. This is below the five year average.”

Similarly the AHDB published this comment.

“What are the prospects for European new crop oilseed rape?

Harvest 2020 was not a good year for oilseed rape in the UK and across Europe. Unfavourable weather, the increasing bans of plant protection products and the flea beetle all contributed to a crop that struggled across the continent.

The plant is now becoming a risky and expensive option for many farmers to grow and for this reason, many growers are choosing to move away from growing OSR.

Domestically, according to AHDB’s Early Bird Survey, we are facing the third consecutive year of decline in OSR area. Area planted for harvest 2021 is forecast to be a further 18% lower than the harvest 2020.”

Yet whilst our vegetable oil production falls, people are still using vegetable oil. But it’s not as if there is a world surplus they can tap into. Again, from the AHDB.

“Malaysian palm oil stocks have been forecast lower again due to strong Chinese demand. The La Niña weather event has caused heavy rains in key palm oil producing regions which is likely to keep global supplies tight.

https://ahdb.org.uk/news/what-are-the-prospects-for-european-new-crop-oilseed-rape-grain-market-daily

Given that the environmentally conscious aren’t going to use soya oil (damage to rainforest) palm oil (again damage to rainforest), have to cope with reducing quantities of rape oil, it could well be that people will have to switch to cooking with beef dripping produced from grass fed British Cattle.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Talk to an expert

Available in paperback or kindle from Amazon

And from everybody else as an ebook at

https://books2read.com/u/md7XEX

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.”

Just dropped in for the crack.

In farming, there are times when you see nobody. I suspect that if I collapse and have a heart attack in a field it’ll be some hours before anybody thinks to come and see where I am. I wonder if the H&SE will put this down as another agricultural accident and demand we do more on-line training?
But farming is becoming a more solitary industry. Even in my time it’s got worse. I can remember my father commenting on it. When he’d first gone into farm service, a not particularly large farm could have family plus three or four lads working outside and a lass to help in the house. Farm work was a pretty communal activity. Then there were threshings and similar where lads would be swapped from farm to farm to help out.

For me, haytime was a novelty, you’d be working with three or four other people. Silaging less so. OK you worked as part of a team but you’re each in your own tractor and might not speak to anybody for some time.

I remember talking to one chap, his wife went out to work. Because she left home to take the children to school before he’d finished milking, and whilst she and the children got back at 5pm, he was milking again. So he’d see his family between about 6pm and 9pm. And he didn’t see much of the children because they had homework etc. As he said, it was only on weekends he had a family.

At one time auction marts were places with a lot of social contact. When I was milking cows I’d perhaps go every other week on average. With calves or cull cows to sell. When I swapped to calf rearing, I’d be there most weeks with calves to buy or store cattle to sell. It was one day a week but it got me out and it kept me up with the news and what was going on.

But then in 2001 we had the FMD outbreak. Obviously the auction marts were closed, but when they eventually reopened they were a shadow of what they had been. As economic entities, getting farmers good prices, creating a market, they still worked and they’re still doing a good job. But a lot of the social dimension seemed to fade. In our area a lot of small farms went out, people retired, sold up, or rented their land out and got a job which actually paid a living. The situation seemed to slowly get worse. Fewer people on fewer farms, less time in which to fit more work. Certainly not the time available to spend half a day around an auction ring.

I wandered back into the mart two or three times but frankly there were times when I felt it was full of miserable old men, most of whom were younger than me. I remember going to the Christmas beef show and a young farmer commented to me how packed it was. The Christmas shows were always busy, but what he thought of as packed was what I regarded as a normal Thursday auction day.

But over the same period I’ve been volunteering to help with FCN (Farming Community Network)  https://fcn.org.uk/

We walk with people through all sorts of problems. A common one can be summed up as, ‘The government promised me £x thousand pounds under a scheme to do something they wanted doing. They haven’t paid me the money and I have creditors who want paying and nobody in government will talk to me.”
Then you get tenancy issues, inheritance issues, all sorts of things. But also you get the people who just need to talk. I remember one woman who just talked for a long time. Various problems, a mixture of farming and life. Boyfriend who wouldn’t commit and other issues. But letting her talk she mentioned that she’d used to go regularly to the mart. But after the mart there was a coffee morning she went to at her local church. She’d drop in for half an hour on her way home. Effectively it was her midday lunch break and she’d just go straight into her afternoon work when she got home. The ladies there were all at least half a generation older than her, but she’d got on really well with them. She’d not been going to the mart so she’d missed the coffee morning as well. I pointed out to her that whilst I could help with farming stuff, those ladies were the perfect group to advise on boyfriends. In fact they probably knew a person who could give him the necessary kick in the seat of the pants. My advice was to go to the coffee morning even if she didn’t go to the mart.

Again I had a young chap on the phone who started with one problem and just talked. As he talked he worked out the answer to his problem, and two or three other problems he’d not realised he had. But his real problem was he never saw anybody to just talk to.

And of course, covid has made it worse. Yes we’ve kept working normally. As somebody commented, covid is a very Protestant virus. You’re allowed to work as much as you want, but you mustn’t enjoy yourself.

And all the bridges we built have been dismantled through regulation. But people still need to talk. Indeed somebody suggested that after lockdown, normal people will understand what farmers go through all the time. OK we’re locked down in a nicer area and have plenty of room, but you so rarely see anybody.

So what to do? Well FCN is still there. In this county and diocese, the churches had organised a system where there was a chaplain (often a retired member of the clergy, or one who was based in the area) would just go into the auction mart every week. It’s a strange ministry. Somebody with this role had to miss a week to lead a funeral. The following week all sorts of people asked them where they’d got to and why weren’t they at the mart. People who had never otherwise spoken to them had missed them.

The chaplain came to the conclusion that even people who never spoke to them liked the reassurance of knowing there was somebody there in case they needed them.

The other problem is that in a lot of areas the traditional rural community has long broken down. The comment I read once was somebody had done a survey and discovered their village had more bank managers or hair dressers than it had farmers and farm workers. Farmers are often strangers in what was once their own community, surrounded by people who they no longer have anything in common with and are generally regarded as a nuisance because of ‘noise’ or ‘smell.’ Given that more people are either moving out of the cities, or at least buying second homes, that’s a problem that isn’t going to improve in a hurry either.

Oh yes, and ‘the crack.’ In this area, probably because of Irish influence, we use their word, Craic, for chat, but of course, anglicise the spelling. It may be an Irish word but it’s now part of English. 

♥♥♥

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

Available from Amazon as paperback or on kindle

And from everywhere else as an ebook at

https://books2read.com/u/bwooxP

As a reviewer commented, “Should be mandatory reading for anyone moving to the countryside for the first time. Charmingly accurate and educational. Utterly first class.”