Promises made after the horse meat fiasco forgotten

Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary
Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary

Lovely sunny weather last week with high temperatures in West Sussex, reaching 31 Celsius (89f) degrees on Friday with high humidity. Now various descriptions were seen in the press ranging from ‘sweltering heat’ to ‘Britain’s heat-wave’ and ‘British summer sees hottest day this year’, but as predicted overnight on Thursday and Friday we had some pretty spectacular thunderstorms and heavy rain at times which has freshened things up.

It was pretty dry and although harvest is underway, it was well received by grassland farmers, and it was most welcome on the sand at Tillington I must say.

The maize is flowering at Tillington which is very early, and it will have trapped every drop of moisture over the weekend. The dense ‘forest’ of plants preventing any sunlight reaching the ground which means that once weeds are killed they cannot re-appear, but also keeps the soil quite moist and creates an ideal trap for any rain, preventing it from evaporation. I expect it will grow a little taller, but as the cobs are now filling out, it will divert most of its energy there.

Friday’s heat took most if not all of Thursday night’s rain from the grass paddocks, but cooler weather over the weekend and some more showers has done a lot of good. The little birds were chattering away over the weekend, they were delighted to have some moisture. It’s a hard time of year for teenage mammals and birds as they make their own way in the world, ignored, neglected and even chased away as parenting comes to an end; it is a tough time. We have had to move our milk powder at Tillington after a fox cub discovered that it tastes quite nice!

We had to give up on the heifer calf at Tillington which had reacted badly to sunlight some weeks ago. She was making no progress and it was decided that rather than let her suffer we should put her down. It is the first of three or four over the last few years where we have failed to get an animal over this condition by keeping them in and out of the sun. It is unclear what causes the condition and one theory is that a poisonous plant is part of the problem, but it is certainly quite severe when it strikes and the white patches of skin on the animal peel off as ultra-violet light affects the blood supply, which then causes problems in the liver.

We had a flying visit from Max Jelbart last week, large dairy farmer in Victoria, Australia. Max has been on a bit of a tour, taking in Canada, USA, on the way to the UK. Having visited many of the progressive large dairy farms in this country, he was impressed with the levels of investment, welfare and general high standard of dairy production.

His own herds are calving now as they head into spring down under, and he will be taking many ideas picked up on the way back with him. He said the trip had really boosted his enthusiasm for dairy farming, something I never thought was lacking in Max’s case I must admit!

Global dairy prices fell 8.9% last week driven by a 10.9% drop in Whole Milk Powder, which takes them to their lowest level in 18 months. This is very likely to soften EU prices which will affect the farm-gate price later this summer. However global markets are expected to strengthen over the next ten years as demand in developing countries increases on the back of higher income and changing diets.

Having been in the firing line over beef imports from Ireland last week, Tesco is under attack again for promoting New Zealand lamb when British lamb is in season. NFU President Meurig Raymond asked why the biggest retailer should choose to promote end of season NZ lamb over ‘Red Tractor assured, fresh lamb produced in the fields, valleys and hills of England and Wales’? Tesco stated that it sells more British lamb than any other retailer and is committed to promoting British lamb this summer. Lamb prices have been falling of late and there is growing anger that all the promises which followed the horse meat scandal have now been forgotten.

The alternative approach has been taken by Gareth Wyn Jones, a Welsh hill farmer who attracted the attention of high end London Butcher Danny Lidgate on Twitter. Gareth is a prolific tweeter and has promoted his farm and the upland way of life to people who are both involved in agriculture and outside. He has been supplying Lidgate’s since mid-May, sending 10 lambs a week from the early lambing group, and is pleased to get such positive feed-back from Danny Lidgate who has not bought Welsh lamb before.

We lost our Secretary of State last week which was always a risk (quite a high risk in fact), and as the world moves on swiftly, we now have the youngest lady Cabinet Minister ever, which is a great personal achievement for anyone in the torrid world of politics. 38-yearold Liz Truss is a rising star in the Conservative party renowned for her free-market views, ambition and combative style. She is tipped by some as a future leader and Defra and Agriculture will benefit from having a dynamic rising star in charge.

As farmers we owe Owen Patterson a great deal of thanks for his support of agriculture in general and his enthusiasm for farming. He was a charger, spoke his mind, had strong views and got things done. His tenure was a breath of fresh air at Defra and has changed the department for the better, and his policies will continue, but in a less controversial manner. His undoing was that in modern day politics, his approach enraged the opposition, powerful single issue and pressure groups, who are equally passionate and outspoken, but he also frightened his colleagues and those in Number 10 who need to win an election; it’s all about control and discipline now.

It does seem to me that David Cameron has managed to find himself with a seething group of the ‘past over disappointed’ and ‘sacked’ Conservative MPs on the back benches rather sooner than most Prime Ministers. The most damaging mistake was offering Liam Fox a junior role which he held 20 years ago, far more insulting than ignoring him completely. There is a dangerous group of back benchers who dislike Cameron and what he stands for, who have always been there and as the disaffected swell in ranks, they become more powerful.

Nick Clegg and the liberal Democrats meanwhile have started reneging on policies jointly agreed over the years of coalition. ‘U turns’ on policy as we approach the election is to be expected, but then how can they claim their share of the ‘glory’ over things that have gone well or are popular? You can’t have your cake and eat it too Nick, and frankly we would have more respect if you had courage and defended your actions as junior partners in government.