Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Farming & Farmers

The crisis in the dairy industry has taken the BBC news headline today and it may encourage people to really start thinking about where their food comes, not just milk, and how vulnerable we are as farmers to market forces. What other industry finds itself selling a product for less than it costs to produce and be able to stay in business.
In December the number of dairy farmers in Britain dropped to below 10,000, a 50%(!!!) fall since 2001.
There are always people out there who have a perception that farmers are miserable,complaining curmudgeons, well maybe they too would complain if they felt that they were working for nothing and were unable to do anything about it.
The general public's view of farming & farmers is confused I think.
On the one hand there is the bucolic rose-tinted idea of the merry peasant tilling his ground and tending his animals and on the other there is the greedy, factory farmer keeping livestock in huge sheds & despoiling the land. Both views are extreme nonsense.
The reality is that farming covers a wide spectrum of methods, lifestyles and aspirations. We all work hard in often very difficult and challenging conditions & using methods that are often misunderstood by the consumer but at the end of the day we are all producing that most basic of human requirements, food.
Without farmers and educators (those who pass on knowledge, not just peddlers of information)there is nothing.

Monday, 19 January 2015

First Milk Meeting, Weekend Shooting

A cold sparkling silver morning with the blackbirds and robins trilling away merrily in th hedgerows. The dogs love this weather, as do I, and whilst I do not leap and prance around with the frost in my toes like them, I do enjoy the briskness it brings to our daily walks.

Further to my last post, we attended the First Milk meeting and listened to Sir Jim Paice explaining the current dire situation regarding the milk price.
In simple terms there is simply too much milk on the world market and this affects the whole system from the farmers onwards. It is a very complicated business and I can't begin to try to explain it as I barely understand it myself but it has meant that the price to farmers has dropped dramatically. First Milk has deferred its payments to the farmers by two weeks and this deferrment is to continue until August. Some farms are going to really struggle...some 60 farms left the industry in December alone.
I take back my comment in the last post about the chairman & board not having their salaries deferred as Sir Jim did tell us that they had in fact deferred them at some point last year (though possiblynot with the same impact on their lives as it is having with the people who actually milk cows).
The whole thing will rumble on for some considerable time yet, but the general atmosphere at the meeting which was attended by anything up to 200 farmers, was reasonably amiable though many are very worried. We were presented with facts & figures and there was no trying to hide behind statistics & jargon.

We have had a very busy weekend with some of Younger Son's friends, their labradors & girlfriends arriving on Friday for a weekend's shooting. All very jolly. The two visiting dogs are the offspring of my lab Hattie and siblings of Younger Son's lab Jess. It was interesting to see family likenesses so strongly apparent. They are all very good-looking dogs and very well trained and therefore much admired when out in the field.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

First Snows, The Price of Milk

We're half way through January and we've had the first snowfall. Not a great deal but enough to transform the landscape into something magical. Whether there will be any more we'll have to wait and see. I do rather hope there will be...I know it makes a lot of work for us all but it is such fun.

As some of you may be aware there has been much coverage in the media about the price of milk; that it is cheaper than bottled water, that many farmers are being paid less than the cost of production. The company that has been in the firing line this week is First Milk, the company that we have a contract with. They have made the decision to defer payments to we producers until the end of the month instead of paying us in the middle of the month, and have dropped the price by 2 pence per litre. This has been done to improve their cash flow problems.
The big question for us is will the electricity company, the phone company, the local petrol station be willing to accept deferred payment from us as a result? Somehow I think not.
Also, is the chairman of First Milk having his huge salary deferred? Again, I think not!
Anway, we have been summoned to a meeting tomorrow with the chairman to 'discuss the full details of last week's announcement'. I guess it may be a rather tense gathering.
Milk industry politics have been volatile for long time and it seems that they are continueing to be so. It is to be hoped that some significant changes can come about with regard to the price paid to the farmers and the price of milk for the consumer. With fewer than 10,000 dairy farms in the UK and more leaving the industry something has to be done.