For farmers who have not yet finished harvesting, it is deeply worrying watching the rain lashing down on crops which are fit and ready. The heavy ears of corn are now bursting to be combined, with grains beginning to squeeze out of their coats, and in danger of dropping to the ground before the combines arrive.
This will be yet another disaster for hard pressed farmers who already face cripplingly low prices for their grain which has been costly to grow.
We have heard much about the plight of dairy farms, many of whom are receiving less for their milk than the cost of producing it. Dairy farmers are to be congratulated for raising the public’s awareness of their plight. It is easy to criticise the various stunts that have been pulled off, but we can be certain this action is due to sheer desperation, as farmers watch their livelihood crumbling before their eyes.
It is not easy or even possible to switch on and off milk production. From the day a calf is born it takes around three years to reach maturity to produce milk. Once the milk begins to flow, short of putting a bullet between its eyes, it is impossible to stop.
It seems that George Osborne and Agriculture Minister Liz Truss have a ‘rural productivity plan’, to encourage more people and businesses to exchange city life for the countryside. They believe that in doing so people and businesses will inject added dynamism and cash flow into rural parts of the country.
There is apparently been a trend of up to 60,000 a year, of people moving out of towns to the country. Mr Osbourne and Miss Truss are obviously trying to find ways of supporting rural communities with a sustainable and practical approach. This is very worthy and should be commended. Too often rural communities are regarded as the poor relation and left to sink or swim.
At least they recognise how important the rural economy, which is currently worth £250 billion a year, is to the national coffers. The government is driving the programme of superfast broadband, which for many is still totally inadequate. You do not have to be ‘out in the sticks’, to experience dreadful connections. We are less than a mile from the centre of Burgess Hill, and not only do we have inadequate internet connection, our mobile reception exceptionally bad.
How farms and businesses working in more rural areas manage is a mystery, and a situation which is unacceptable in the 21st century, as it is a huge disadvantage.
At a time when the national economy is fragile, and many agricultural businesses are teetering on the edge of a precipice; how this ‘rural productivity plan’ is tackled must be approached with care and a deep understanding of the consequences of getting it wrong.
Attention must be concentrated upon improved broad band and public transport, including roads and rail. Adequate housing has to be built in appropriate places and in moderation. It is vital that locals are not priced out of the housing market by newcomers imported from towns and cities. And importantly, ‘affordable housing’, must be affordable. This is not the case in Wivelsfield.
The last batch of ‘affordable houses’ are way outside the affordability of the very people who should be housed there. This includes hard working locals on low incomes – carers for example, on the minimum wage, who are reluctant to apply for, or are ineligible for handouts.
The result is that they are thrown out of one and two bedroom ‘affordable’ accommodation, which are then handed over to long term unemployed from outside the district. Many are useless members of society who sponge off the state. How fare is that?
It must also be remembered that with increased housing development in rural areas comes additional demand for schools, hospitals, transport and other services.
It should be noted that people moving from urban dwellings into the countryside can bring with them expectations and a lack of understanding about rural communities. It is not always possible to transfer one way of life into another.
The countryside is a work place that has evolved through generations of its custodians – the farmers, field sportsmen and foresters working together to create a beautiful environment which has its own unique industry which is productive, and rich in wildlife for all to enjoy. It is not a place to abuse, overcrowd, treat like a municipal park, litter and change for changes sake.
Politicians must consult with these custodians, not just town planners, economists and people with little understanding about the complexities and traditions of this precious resource.
I would recommend that Mr Osbourne and Miss Truss buy copies of Aesop’s fable The Town Mouse and Country Mouse, for bedtime reading. It is not always easy or advisable to artificially transfer lifestyles from one very different community to another!
Carola Godman Irvine