The fair weather we enjoyed over the Bank Holiday weekend did make those of us who had planted spring crops exceedingly nervous, particularly when rumours were rampant that we were in for a drought which would last until July. Fortunately these rumours were inaccurate and since then we and our newly planted crops have enjoyed some welcome rain. We now hear that we are in for a wet and windy summer once again. It would be nice to have weather in moderation for a change.
The spring barley at Ote Hall has emerged and is so far looking healthy, as are the Lupins at Randolphs. These during their early stages of growth are like a magnet to the pigeons, so the guns are ready for action and we have menacing flying hawks hovering above the fields which should help to fend off flying predators.
The cattle are out at last now that the grass has got going and should keep well ahead of the grazing young stock. Our stocking rate is fairly modest so we use little or no nitrogen which generally means our grass is well behind my neighbours. Once it gets going, we have plenty for summer grazing and hay for the cattle and over wintering polo ponies.
*There is a humdinger of a battle raging amongst EU Ministers and MEPS over the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It is about the detail between the direct financing of agriculture and the transfer of funds to rural development. The current scheme switches funds from Pillar One to Pillar Two via national modulation which is match-funded by national governments. Back in February EU Ministers in their wisdom, or lack of it, agreed to allow transfers of up to 15 per cent between the two pillars without any obligation to member states to match fund.
This is all very well if you have an Agriculture Minister who is very supportive of farmers and consider food security to be a priority. However, if you have a minister such as DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson who intends to use the full 15 per cent to fund agri-environmental schemes, that immediately puts UK farmers at a disadvantage to farmers in other EU countries whose ministers consider food producing farmers should receive the full amount.
There are those within and without the farming industry who consider it to be unacceptable for farmers to receive any farm subsidies at all. There was a letter last week in the Farmers Weekly from a Derbyshire farmer who believes that farmers should succeed or fail on hard work and ability alone. He said that he and many other farmers think you are entitled to nothing more than the fruits of your own hard work and should not expect anyone to prop up your business if you cannot make it profitable.
He said that the presence of subsidies distorts the market, stifles innovation, inflates land prices and impedes the successful growth of existing enterprises as well as blocking new entrants.
He also believes quite rightly, that it is the job of governments to develop exports and reduce bureaucracy. As an example he uses New Zealand where all direct payments were stopped in favour of developing markets overseas. There import restrictions were imposed to prevent potentially devastating production-limiting diseases such as foot-and –mouth and economically damaging threats.
I think Mr Jones is somewhat harsh to generalise and to use New Zealand as an example of good practise, which does not compare well with the UK which is severely restricted regarding border controls, markets and regulations due to our unfortunate relationship with the EU.
Also, it is all very well for farmers whose land is very fertile, have the opportunity to diversify due to location or circumstances, or can innovate through adding value to their produce, and various other schemes to make their businesses profitable. However, not all farms have such potential, mostly due to location. Without the hard work of some farmers, the grazing of their livestock or the particular crops they grow which may not be profitable, but which enhances their community and landscape and offers a service which is invaluable, the countryside would be a poorer place.
Without financial support these farms could well be abandoned and become a wilderness or be taken over by developers, gypsies or others whose poor husbandry would do little to enhance what is perhaps a wild but managed countryside.
There are plenty of farms which would survive without subsidies but if that is to be the case we need to have a level playing field. You cannot have some farmers with no funding competing with farmers within the EU and else where who are subsidised and can accept lower prices for their produce. The outcome of this raging debate is being watched nervously particularly by farmers tottering on the edge, many due to the appalling weather conditions they faced this year.
Perhaps, one day all subsidies will go but as long as we have governments which wish to meddle and dictate to farmers how they run their businesses and what they grow where, the red tape and bureaucracy which goes hand in hand, it will continue.
Carola Godman Irvine