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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.”

So what’s it got to do with farming?

On the 23 March 2021, the Ever Given, one of the largest container ships in the world, got stuck in the Suez Canal. It took six days to refloat it. This made the media everywhere. What wasn’t reported in quite as many newspapers was that the ship was then impounded by the Egyptian government on 13 April 2021. This is because the company refused to pay a reported $916 million in fees demanded by the government. This compensation is claimed to have included $300 million in “loss of reputation.” Personally I suspect that at that point the temptation of the owners would be to walk away, telling the Egyptians to just keep the boat. But apparently the Egyptians reduced their claim to $600. Finally, in early July 2021 the ship was allowed to sale, an agreement having been reached.

Obviously it caused chaos, there was a traffic jam of over two hundred vessels, and some boats decided to come home the long way, taking the 15,000 mile detour round the Cape, rather than wait until the canal was unblocked. Apparently “Suez to Amsterdam at 12 knots is just over 13 days via the canal, or 41 days via the Cape.” Not only have you the costs of the extra time, you’ve got extra fuel, and also the worry about how your customers will react to the fact that the stuff you’ve promised to deliver is still at sea.

But there was an interesting article in the paper this morning. The Ever Given has docked in Felixstowe, about four months late. Initially it had 18,300 containers on it, many were offloaded in Rotterdam, but two thousand will be unloaded in Felixstowe. The cargo includes two giant dinosaurs for a Cambridgeshire golf centre, and an awful lot of fruit and vegetables that have gone rotten.  

One problem is that shipping is cyclical, there’s a shortage. So people build more ships and scrap fewer, and then suddenly, ten or so years later, there’s a surplus.

And at the moment, we’re in shortage. There’s a demand for scrap, so you can cash your ship in for $500 a ton (a high price when banks were recommending people budget of $50.) Covid played a part, replacement crews were in the wrong place. Companies had to charter planes to fly them out and fly the others back, but the replacement crew might still have to quarantine for a fortnight. Schedules weren’t as much pushed back as scrapped.

But spot container rates for goods leaving Asia (which is the big exporter) rarely ran more than $2000 for a standard 40ft container. This jumped during the course of this year to $7000 and last week prices for the China to USA route broke the $20,000 barrier. Some of this is prices getting back to where they should be. At the start of 2020 it was notoriously cheaper in some places to stick the cargo on a freighter and send it round the world than it was to pay for warehousing.

So what does it mean for farming? Well we’re lucky in that most of the stuff we purchase, feedstuffs and fertiliser, come into the UK as bulk cargos. These haven’t seen the same cost hike as containers. But there again, some major shipping lines are now convincing their clients to abandon containers and just to ship things in bulk for the saving. So we’ll probably see prices rise. But for once there are advantages to being part of the obsolete and unfashionable end of the market.

But then there’s our competitors. It’s highly likely that some of the gaps in supermarket shelves are due to produce rotting on ships that were delayed, one way or another. Also a forty foot container can carry about 22 tons of fruit. The increase in cost from $2000 to $7000 would mean an increase of $250 per ton or about 18p per kilo. I cannot see the supermarkets deciding to just absorb that cost.

The exporters who’ll suffer most are those who sell cheap, bulk, commodities, such as food. A lot of African exporters are being badly hit, first by the lack of flights that would provide hold space for some cargo, but also by the fact that pretty much any cargo you want to ship is probably worth more per ton than food means that they’re going to be at the back of the queue when it comes to hiring shipping.

It’s going to be interesting to see what does either disappear from the shops and shoots up in price.

♥♥♥♥

There again what do I know? Speak to the experts

Available from Amazon in paperback or on kindle

 

and from everybody else as an ebook at

https://books2read.com/u/mggzxz

As one reviewer commented, “

This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong”

How many trees can you eat?

It’s a lot of years ago now. My father and I went on this farm walk organised by the Country Landowners Association. In some parts of the England and Wales, the CLA seems to have a preponderance of major estates and landowners, and in other parts of England and Wales most of its members are small farmers.

I think I was about sixteen at the time. What happened was that one of the big local estates (Holker) had had a tenant retire and were wondering what to do with the farm they’d now got to worry about.

So they had the walk, split us into groups and asked each group what they’d do with the farm. Which is as good a way to go about this sort of thing as any I suppose. But at sixteen what fascinated me was how the groups could be sorted by eye. The farmers wore flat caps, nylon anoraks sold by ACT, a ‘co-op’ selling to farmers, and wore plain black Nora wellingtons.

The ‘landowners’ wore a wider variety of hats, trilbies and deerstalkers were both in evidence. They wore waxed jackets and their wellingtons were green and had side buckles.

Now this was fifty years ago so the world was different then.

Anyway the two groups wandered around, and discussed plans. Finally after Holker had provided us with lunch, the two groups were allowed to report. The farmers had looked at the job and had come up with what they thought was a good plan. They’d run 300 dairy cows on the farm. The landlord would have to put in some investment, but actually not all that much. The farmers were confident that in three or four years they’d have the business up, running, and making serious money.

Then the chap who was spokesman for the Landowners group stood up. He’d obviously been listening. I can still remember his words.

“Rent it to that lot. They know what they’re doing and will not just make themselves money, they’ll put the farm back into good heart and it will be an asset to your estate.”
Then he paused, and added, “But there’s a small patch of woodland at the edge of the farm down near the beach. Keep that in hand and sprinkle caravans in it. The margins are good, the demand is there, and there isn’t a lot of competition.”
I think he knew one of the basic truths, farmer’s farm. It’s what they do and they do it well. If you ever want to experience sickening hypocrisy listen to politicians (who cannot see beyond the next election) or the chief executives of NGOs (engaged in endless trimming their political stance to ensure optimum funding to fill this year’s budget) lecture farmers, (who look ahead to how their children and grandchildren are going to get by) on the need for long term planning.

Another incident I remember from that walk was being ‘hijacked.’ The Holker Estate land agent who was showing us all about led the convoy of cars, and it was going to go down a gated road. He had with him in the passenger seat an elderly gentleman who could have been eighty. So neither of them were going to bounce in and out of the car opening and shutting gates. So he looked round and found the youngest and most expendable. Much to my father’s amusement this was me.

As I climbed into the car, in the crush an elderly farmer said, “Just touch the hem of his jacket.”
Of course I asked, “Why.”
“So you catch whatever he’s got.”

In the way these things happen, perhaps ten years later I was on various bodies and was working with the land agent in question. He was sharp. Straight, reasonably respected by farmers and his peers alike, a nice enough chap and very sharp. Bright enough to retire and spend some years sailing his boat in the Med anyway.


But as the old chap at the meeting knew. Farmers, farm. It’s what we do. We feed people. But now they want us to produce trees. I have some experience with trees. I remember my father pondering a couple of trees, they needed to come down, they were getting a bit old and would soon be dangerous. Their fellows had come down prior to the General Strike back in 1925/26 because there was no fuel for that winter.

So we’d contacted somebody from one of the companies that did bits of forestry. He looked at two good big sycamores and basically we’d have had to pay him to take them away. So we felled them ourselves which was fun and even exciting at times.

But the thing is, the reason I don’t grow trees (except over the years I’ve allowed hedgerow trees to come up to replace those we lost during the General Strike because the next generation or the one after that might need the fuel) is because I cannot afford to. I cannot afford to plant a crop which might produce a meaningful income in sixty or seventy years’ time. Any crop which takes twelve general elections to get to harvest is a dubious proposition.
But why do they want all these trees?
Simple, sequestrating carbon. Except that this con has also been laid bare. Oxfam has calculated that the total amount of land required for planned carbon removal (That is the carbon removal already ‘locked into’ the plans) could potentially be five times the size of India, or the equivalent of all the farmland on the planet.

Sorry but what are you all going to eat?
To quote Oxfam again, (to be fair to them, they’ve had the courage to tot up the numbers) “Oxfam’s analysis shows that several countries and companies are banking on land and natural sinks to meet net zero targets. The EU’s plans rely on forests and nature to remove 225 Mt CO2e of emissions, which could require a maximum of 90m ha of land if EU countries were to rely solely on afforestation to meet this target.

Oxfam has further looked at the net zero targets of just four of the big oil and gas producers (Shell, BP, Total Energies and ENI). Their plans alone could require an area of land twice the size of the UK. If the oil and gas sector as a whole adopted similar net zero targets, it could end up requiring land that is nearly half the size of the United States, or one-third of the world’s farmland.”

The problem with forestry and trees as a carbon sink is that they are living creatures. They grow, they take up carbon. As they reach maturity they take up less carbon because they’re not growing much, then they die and release all that carbon again. It’s not an infinite sink.
In sixty years’ time when Shell, BP, Total Energies and ENI want to ‘offset’ their carbon, they’ll have to acquire another area of land twice the size of the UK because the land they’ve already acquired won’t take up any more, the new trees growing on it are just about keeping up with reabsorbing the carbon being released by the trees that are dying.

Carbon sequestration by planting woodland has a place. You could use it to mop up the carbon produced by essential industries, such as agriculture and steel. It’s not there so people can fly off to yet another foreign holiday destination. At the moment, the question I’d ask isn’t, “When will the UK tourism industry be allowed to reopen,” but, “Why on earth are we reopening it? Who wants to fly abroad to watch the world burn?”

♥♥♥♥

What do I know?
In paperback and kindle from Amazon

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!”

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

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

‘They’re mad at Market Harborough

And livid at Leigh-on-Sea,

In Tunbridge Wells

You can hear the yells

Of woe-begone bourgeoisie.

We all get bitched about, lads,

Whoever our vote elects,

We know we’re up the spout, lads.

And that’s what England expects.

Hurray, hurray, hurray!

Trouble is on the way.

There are bad times just around the corner,

The horizon’s gloomy as can be,

There are black birds over

The grayish cliffs of Dover

And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC

We’re an unhappy breed

And very bored indeed

When reminded of something that Nelson said.

While the press and the politicians nag nag nag

We’ll wait until we drop down dead.’

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

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

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

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

https://www.fwi.co.uk/business/business-management/agricultural-transition/real-impact-of-aussie-trade-deal-to-hit-farmers-in-10-years

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

https://ahdb.org.uk/news/what-s-behind-high-global-beef-prices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know. 

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

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.”

Quick off the blocks? Soya and UK livestock.

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

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

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

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

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

Chickens eat 345,000 tons

Pork takes 181,600 tons

Egg production takes 64,800 tons

Beef takes 60,800 tons

Fish takes 52,900 tons

Cows’ milk takes 29,000 tons

Turkey takes 23,600 tons

Cheese takes 23,200 tons

Other dairy 5,400 tons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥

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

And as an ebook from everybody else from

https://books2read.com/u/mZeayy

As a reviewer commented, “

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

Yeah well this isn’t one of them.

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

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

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

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

There is a lot of discussion about food waste. I came across an article with the snappy title, “The UK wastes millions of tonnes of food every year: here’s how we can change that.” If you’re interested it’s at https://theconversation.com/the-uk-wastes-millions-of-tonnes-of-food-every-year-heres-how-we-can-change-that-162783

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥

 

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

And available from everybody else at

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!”

Income Forgone

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

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

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

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

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

http://sciencesearch.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=18542

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥

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

In paperback and kindle from Amazon

And from everybody else from

https://books2read.com/u/mggzxz

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