Bees awake and birds arrive for the spring

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The birds and the bees are in spring mode – and so are we! The little birds are nesting furiously, flying around with long bits of straw trailing behind them; plum blossom in the garden is attracting early bumble bees.

Lapwings calling in the fields, a buzzard lazily floating above, mobbed by nesting crows; bluebells thrusting their leaves sword-like through the soil in the woods confirming that winter is over.

The little birds have had a good winter with record numbers singing and darting around, crashing into the conservatory as they fight their territory in the garden.

Our heifers grazing at Tillington are getting a bigger daily break now the grass has been fertilized, and they no longer get fed any concentrates.

Two hundred acres of the maize ground has been ploughed and we shall now go back to muck spreading and muck hauling to the remaining maize ground before we get back to the plough.

The clay at Plaistow is still totally waterlogged and there is no point thinking of any work here for a few weeks yet.

Our new dairy office has arrived; Gwenan and the lads will now have a clean office to work in, store records and have meetings, which will be very good.

Plenty of wall space to put up charts, protocols, targets, trends and so on so that we can monitor progress.

The ‘dirty’ office and computer will stay as they need to dash out of the parlour to look up information on various animals, and having this facility will mean that the new spacious office will be kept for clean work with wellies off and no working clothes.

The builders are diminishing in numbers again this week as we get nearer to completion. I expect the bits and pieces to drag on as they always do, but the end is in sight now.

The last job will be black top surfacing the drive which will make a huge difference; little point in doing it before work is finished.

We are just starting to move caravans and mobile homes off site as well as umpteen containers which arrived full of very expensive kit which has now all been fitted.

Landscaping will follow once the ground has dried out and we have a tree and hedge planting programme in place which will help blend everything in, adding to the plentiful trees and hedgerows we already have.

I attended the NFU AGM in Birmingham last week, where outgoing Peter Kendal gave his last speech, telling us how much better the world is now compared to when he took office.

He is absolutely right of course as dairy farming is at last getting good prices for milk as feed prices drop increasing margins, Tesco announced horticulture supply chain plans, bovine TB is being tackled, real export demand for our produce, and most important of all a realisation by all political parties that food matters and British agriculture is important.

Of course, the recent floods have been damaging and hugely challenging, but confidence has returned and we can now set about growing British Agriculture. That will be the challenge for the all new team, led by new President Meurig Raymond.

Owen Patterson did not attend due to his continuing recovery following eye surgery, but the Farming Minister George Eustice deputising did his best to dampen our spirits by stating very clearly that farmers will be asked to continue their funding of bTB should the badger culling policy be rolled out to new areas later this year.

He also claimed that British people, who are currently on benefits and fit to work, should be taking the jobs historically taken by immigrant labour on the vegetable fields of this country under the SAWS Scheme (seasonal agriculture worker scheme) which has been done away with. There was dismay at his total lack of understanding over this matter.

Not only is this hard work in often harsh weather, it needs to be done quickly, accurately, to a high standard which involves having an interest in what you are doing.

Are benefit claimants likely to have enthusiasm for such long hours and work? Past experience tells us that they are rarely up to the task, but they can also sour the environment for all the other workers.

Moroccans work in the vegetable fields of Spain, the Spanish pick veg in France and so on. No one seems to pick veg in their own country and our students and young people have traditionally gone grape picking in France or working on a Kibbutz in Israel; now under this government Benefit Street is expected to move to the fens.

The best news last week was that Gavin Grant has stepped down from his position at the RSPCA.

Peter Kendal commented that this will end the charity’s unpleasant campaign against British farming. Gavin Grant who stood down with immediate effect due to ‘concerns about his health’ led many vicious campaigns and politicised the charity to such an extent that it was investigated by Charities commission.

I hope the RSPCA will now get back to the good work it has traditionally done in promoting animal welfare rather than pursuing political agendas.

I see that in the Suffolk village of Sudbury which I have passed through a few times, a campaign against the local butcher has begun. His crime? Displaying meat and dead birds in the shop window.

This has upset a child on her way to buy sweets and her father who is a typical British citizen of our times has started a campaign to remove the upsetting display in the hapless butcher’s window.

No doubt the man involved and his supporters have strong views and are determined to be outraged by, what is to the rest of us, a normal traditional butcher reflecting the quality of his meat and where it comes from.

Such butchers are rare these days, as plastic trays, stacked on supermarket shelves, which rely on labels to inform of content, have driven most out of business. I am pleased to say that the quiet majority in the village have spoken and the display of fresh British meat is back in the window.

I am saddened to report the death of Barbe Jelbart, wife of dairy farmer, Nuffield Scholar and all round entrepreneur Max.

It was obligatory for all of us who visited Australia on our Nuffield Dairy Scholarship trips to visit Max and Barbe, and we were always made to feel so welcome and invited to stay a few nights.

It is almost 20 years since I first visited, having met Max a few years earlier when he was over in the UK on his Scholarship; he returned home a few weeks later to find that Barb had put a sign up on the farm gate ‘Under New Management’!

We have been back many times and seen Barb tending to her beloved rose garden, rearing thousands of calves over the years for the dairy enterprise, hunting at every opportunity with her hip flask tucked in the saddle.

Barbe was an extremely good rider, a great supporter of the hunt, walking hound puppies every year. She made Jake feel very welcome when he arrived there to work last autumn and was showing him Koalas in the trees only a few weeks ago.

She will be sorely missed and our deepest sympathy goes out to Max and the three boys, Will, George, and Tim.