View from the Hill 14th July 2019
The current battle for leadership of the Tory party, and hence for the position of Prime Minister, whatever you think of the rights or wrongs of it, seems to revolve about how hard the candidates can sound about how we leave the EU. Do or die ? What a farce.
Yes I veer into politics, with much hesitation, but in the end, feel I should say as I find.
For farmers to establish crops and get animals pregnant many months if not years before they are able to sell them, requires that they are a) optimists, and b) in the current climate, pretty mad. Even the most optimistic farmers right now are struggling to stay that way in the face of the miserable prospects we face should we leave the EU in a disorderly fashion. Reckless and ignorant doesn’t begin to describe it.
This crop of spring barley was sown before March 29th, when we were supposed to have left the EU. For many years the majority of malting barley crops like this, grown all across the chalk soils of the south of England, have been exported to Europe to be made into popular European lagers. The marketing of last year’s crop was upset by imminent EU exit at the end of March, and the threat of tariffs on sales into Europe after that date. When EU exit was extended to Oct 31st, the timing couldn’t have been much worse for this year’s new crop. The main period of barley export runs from October to June, and the threat of tariffs now hangs over the whole marketing season. Without an agreement, WTO tariff rules will therefore apply to pretty much the whole of this year’s barley crop, effectively shutting us out of the European markets for the whole season (and beyond for how long?). The tariffs are set by the WTO at such a level that no European brewer will be able to afford to buy any UK barley.
These lambs, and the other 150 on the farm, will be fit for market in February and March next year. Similar tariff rules apply to sheepmeat as those to barley, and many other farm products. Traditionally much UK lamb is exported to France, but we will be frozen out of this market too, after October 31st if we leave without sensible transitional arrangements.
The whole nonsense about our government’s failure to achieve even a transitional arrangement with the EU clearly demonstrates that exiting the EU was always going to be extremely difficult. Events have proved this to be the case. Few politicians are being honest with us. How is a change of leader/prime minister, an election, or even a second referendum going to make orderly leaving any more likely? The country is roughly split half and half. We had a referendum, in which many people voted for a whole multitude of reasons, for a result that no-one had the slightest idea of how would play out or be achieved.
How is it that no-one seems to be bold enough to suggest that we do not have a clear mandate for such a monumental change to the country? Even a lowly gardening club or sports club would have written into its constitution that any major changes to its constitution would have to be carried by at least 75% of its membership. We will never be able to leave the EU without a much clearer mandate than that achieved in the original referendum, and until we face up to that we are likely to remain stuck in the mud as we are today.
Why not jack it all in and try again in 10 years time ? In the meantime try to knock some sense into the EU with more vigour than ever before. Do we really want to throw ourselves from a secure protected market of 500 million consumers, onto world markets dominated by greedy and ruthless bullies ?
A depressing example of how inept our government is is demonstrated by the fact that despite repeated requests to the home office for an export licence regime for poppy growers, they have failed for more than a year to engage seriously with the issue. A small amount of legislation is required in order to allow this trade to develop and expand. Right now it is stuck in the boggy swamp of our turgid administration. If this is but one example of what is probably happening across many industries, what hope have we got for our economy in the future, when we have taken back control from the EU but have immediately surrendered it to the WTO and our own incompetence ?
It will be a miracle if the editor allows the above to be printed, so now I will revert to gentler topics.
The combine is serviced, cleaned and raring to go. The grainstores have been cleaned and disinfected, the grain trailers likewise. All we need now is some ripe winter barley and continuing fine weather. Close inspection at the end of last week showed that the straw was still not properly ripe, and that the weekend could be used entirely for recreation. We will have another look on Monday.
June has been a fascinating month, there have been a number of stimulating meetings and events to attend, it is the time of year when farmers venture off their own farms to look at crop trials, demonstrations, and other people’s farms. A farm walk at Launceston Farm was a fine example, we loaded into trailers and had a tour around to look at organic herbal leys grazed by very handsome suckler cows with their calves. We also looked at compost heaps cooking the manure for next season’s crops, we saw wheat and oat crops which have been sown and then hoed by the same machine, guided by very high accuracy GPS. The crops were in ear and had been hoed that very week, I was staggered by the accuracy of the system, nearly all of the crop was still standing, and there were few weeds left visible. One problem that scared me somewhat though was how the hoe had hooked up a lot of stones, which could pose a bit of a problem at combining time. The stubble will have to be left very long to avoid the stones, and let’s hope the crop doesn’t get flattened by the weather. Our host was very honest about the pros and cons of the system, which enables him to farm without chemical weedkillers, which, being organic, he cannot of course use.
Herbal leys are pastures which in addition to grass and clover, include a number of other species such as vetch, sainfoin, chicory and plantain. This kind of pasture provides a more varied diet for the animals, and the greater diversity of root structures in the soil are said to be better for encouraging healthy soils. There are many techniques like this which conventional farmers might borrow from the organic sector, especially in the area of creating healthier soils.
Another interesting visit last month was to the anaerobic digester at Poundbury, which uses maize and rye grown on local farms to produce gas which is pumped directly into the gas mains, it provides the entire gas needs for around 6000 homes all year round, and up to 60,000 in summer time. Up to 2000 acres of crops are processed by the digester, producing an entirely renewable energy source from crops which fix carbon from the atmosphere during the growing season, only to release it again when the gas is burnt. They have recently begun to bag and sell a high quality soil improver, which is the digestate left over after the gas has been harnessed, increasingly popular as a replacement for peat based soil improvers. Many farmers are also keen to buy this product for their fields.
Our recycling company calls to take away silage wrap, seed bags, oil and spray cans and boxes. They assure us that the plastics and cardboard go into responsible streams for re-manufacture.
This year’s poppies have flowered in mostly dry weather during June, the capsules are now swelling nicely, hopefully full of seed.
We were lucky to catch sight of this welcome visitor in our garden, we wonder if he/she is the same one we saw a few times last year, the first I have seen anywhere for very many years.
We were surprised how unscared he was by our presence, before eventually scuttling off into the undergrowth.