Eastbourne Town suffered eye watering financial losses due to the cancellation of the first day of last week’s Air show. The car parks were under water, and nothing could fly safely other than the odd helicopter. Considering what the town invests in this annual spectacular event, the downpour on Thursday will have hit them hard.
There are still many acres of crops across the county waiting to be combined, and frustrated farmers and contractors are eager to get going once again. We can only hope the days ahead will remain dry and the sun will come out to dry the fields and drop the moisture content, so we can complete the harvest.
Canadian dairy farmers are strictly controlled by their quota system, which restricts milk production and prohibits milk exports. The result has been that farmers are protected from the massive milk price drops seen in the UK and other parts of the world.
This system works by ensuring that the milk supply is regulated and so the balance between supply and demand is managed. Some Canadian farmers are beginning to ask for exposure to the global market, and it is thought this will happen in due course. This will introduce them to the uncertainties of market fluctuations; perhaps they should be careful about what they wish for.
Thousands of British farmers are having to decide whether to shut up shop due to rising debts and bills, as they are being priced out of the industry. It is little wonder that many have taken to demonstrating their despair by targeting supermarkets over the past few weeks, with a variety of headline grabbing events.
Businesses should generally be left to succeed or fail without state intervention, but farms are more than businesses. They are, as The Daily Telegraph editorial stated last week, a fundamental part of this country and its identity.
British farmers with high welfare standards struggle against foreign competitors. We import food, New Zealand lamb in particular, while British sheep farmers suffer. Free trade is a good thing and should be encouraged, but when it comes to food production, there is a question of self-sufficiency. Do we want to find ourselves having to rely upon others with lesser standards for our food, as a result of farms falling by the wayside?
British consumers want fresh liquid milk, which we get from our farmers, not UHT or powdered milk. This is why the UK produces the best coffee in the world.’ A well known fact, not just my opinion.
Readers will be tempted to say, “We don’t grow coffee in the UK, so how can this be?” Coffee travels, but the secret ingredient in making the perfect coffee is the milk, which does not. This is why London is the capital of the coffee world.
How coffee tastes is directly related to how the milk tastes. More and more coffee shops are turning to small-scale, high quality British dairy farms for quality milk. It is these, often traditional family farms, which are being unduly affected by the current financial down turn.
The writing is on the wall, and there will be casualties, not just amongst the farming community. The British public will suffer the loss in the long term and so will the countryside.
The number of dairy farms has decreased by a third in the past ten years. Many of the cows have been absorbed into large herds where they are zero-grazed - the cattle are kept inside all year round. The land has also been absorbed into bigger units, and to maximise profits, bushes, hedges and stone walls will be ripped out.
The public do still value the beauty of the British countryside and the diversity of the environment which is nurtured, in particular by traditional family farms. We live in a highly populated small country, and the fields, meadows and pastures are increasingly precious. They protect rural communities and urban areas from flooding, provide a habitat for wildlife, and smaller farms enable country life to have a heart and a purpose. As Noreen Wainright, who farms with her husband in Staffordshire, said recently, “Large agri-farms may suit the supermarkets, but they threaten the heart and purpose of our countryside.
It is not only the price of milk, but sheep, beef and arable farming too, which raises fundamental questions about how we eat, shop and spend our leisure time. It has yet again been reported that the British throw away more food than any other European country, and experts say this is partly caused because we undervalue our food due to its cheapness.
If we are wasting over 40 per cent of fruit and vegetables, 25 per cent of meat and much more besides, surely it is time to consider how best to ensure we once again valuing this precious resource.
Carola Godman Irvine