The wind is howling, my face is sore, and the rain is pelting down making puddles around my wellies but I am still glad I am a British farmer. But why you are asking; the answer is simple, I like the good life of being in the outside air, being around my livestock and walking through the long grass of a summer evening checking my crops. But yes it does bring with it frustrations and worrying periods and many things, which are totally out of my control.Animal health
As a result of the aftermath of the 1996 BSE disease outbreak (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad-cow disease) a livestock system was introduced whereby every living cow, bull or their offspring would have a passport and each time the animal was moved this was recorded by the farmer and the information sent to the British Cattle Movement Services. This enabled our country to know at any one time exactly where an animal or its offspring are. Following on from livestock registrations came the introduction of movement forms in 2001 after the foot and mouth outbreaks when it was difficult to track animal movement. So each time I move a cow, beef animal, pig, sheep or lamb off my farm I have to complete some paperwork.
The hot topic in 2011, and will be again in 2012 for farmers is TB in animals (Tuberculosis). There are suggestions this comes from badgers or it travels in the air, either way many herds of cattle have been destroyed where farms have had an outbreak or an individual animal has contracted this terrible disease. If your farm contracts TB you cannot move an animal until you are tested clear. Farms are usually tested by a ministry vet or the farmer’s local vet every six months. Sadly I lost my Pedigree Lincoln Red Bull last year, the test indicated he was a reactor and had TB, so under law he had to be destroyed, but when the post-mortem result came back it was negative - this is the sad side of the system.
The weather – well, what can you say, it is something farmers are always talking about and one of those things totally out of their control. The dry weather of 2011 has meant there is shortage of forage and straw for the livestock so farmers have to buy it in adding to the feed costs.Regulation
The price of your meat is determined by many things but the most annoying thing to a British farmer is regulations. Very few sectors of industry have been immune to the financial situation of the last 18 months but the government burdening farmers in the UK when other European countries do not adhere to the same playing field is very frustrating. We all know that welfare in the UK is brilliant. Only recently we have heard of pigs in crates and chicken in small cages - two such examples of practices taking place in Europe that have long been banned in the UK. British farmers’ have invested over £400 million to bring their poultry production up to the standard of new legislation that came into force on January 1st 2012 - however we now hear several European countries have failed to adopt the welfare standards, so will these cheap eggs still filter into the UK kitchens? We watch and wait.
Can we afford to eat meat? The price of lamb has become expensive because countries such as New Zealand have reduced their stock from 70 million to 20 million animals. As Europeans like lamb a large percentage of British lamb is exported and hence there is not the import to replace it so there is no price war. Beef is another animal with declining numbers, and pigs offer a similar story. The cost of production in many countries abroad is so much lower than the UK predominately because of welfare regulations. Having said that, there is nothing to beat the quality and taste of locally reared free-range meat.Future intentions
Over the next few years the environment is going to appear high on every ones agenda. It is the government’s intention to move away from production to more environmental issues - birds, bats and woodland for example. How this will balance with production will remain to be seen. What may happen in practice is that good farmers will get better and poor farmers will retire or go out of business. For instance - where there are mountains and hills farmers have been told the stocking number of sheep grazing had to be reduced, with the idea that they have been damaging the vegetation. In reality the bracken has taken over and hefted flocks of sheep that usually stay in one part of the mountain are now drifting to a much larger area mixing up the flocks.
Farming is at present experiencing a skills shortage, although it is good to see the numbers of students going into agricultural course has improved this year. My grandfather and father were both farmers and it was the natural succession for me, but times have now changed and with lower incomes and less direct opportunities sons and daughters are choosing a different career path or are diversifying. In my own family my daughter has a degree in Events Management and my son studying for a degree in Biological Sciences and Zoology. Our farming operations have also changed to meet demand, so we now have a farm shop with a butchery, which cuts up our own meat and sells direct to the consumer. During 2012 we will be converting one of our Cotswold stone barns into a Food and Farming Education centre for local schools, colleges and group to learn more hands on about life on a farm.
Gazing into the sky while looking around my livestock, my crystal ball makes me think 2012 will bring larger farms or more niche farms, the further demise of dairy herds in the UK plus cereal farmers getting larger and less family farms. At present the average age of a farmer is 64 years old, which is frightening for an industry. I think there will be more rural regeneration with farm and village shops but these organisations or businesses will need a lot more support.
All though there are lots of issues going on in the farming world, it is still very much a good life and I would not change it. The financial returns are not great, put it this way - I certainly do not live the life of a bank manager or footballer!
Colin Dawes is the director and owner of Foxbury Farm. Foxbury Farm Shop has been trading for 11 years in 2012 and moved into the larger premises in November 2009. The Farm Shop supports over 50 British producers and is a real destination shopping experience; this is local food at its best. From fresh vegetable and meat to ready meals, it can make up the complete food basket.
For further information, visit: www.foxburyfarm.co.uk