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I can’t quite believe this. There was an email from Pavla this morning

‘Hi Paula,

look what I had waiting for me this morning……… £820 of damage.  I know I have insurance but it’s not the point………

Fed up, fed up………
xx’

smashed

and today - smashed

Her shop window had been smashed – apparently someone thought it might be quite cool to go around busting windows with his fist (and what did his fist look like…?).

The police have arrested him and he’s admitted to doing it. But as Pavla said, ‘that’s not the point’. It’s the hassle; the damage, the organisation, the repairs, the shop being shut, the energy needed to talk to the police, the insurance company, the glass repair business, the carpenter, the decorator and last but not least the excess and the up-front payment while everything is sorted out (and where’s that coming from at a time like this? Falling in bounty from the sky?). This is not something she needs right now.

Pavla, I know everyone’s thoughts will be with you, gunning for you, and hoping our combined energy will make it all a little easier.  My blood boils at the senseless, thoughtless, inane behaviour of the chap who did it, and I just hope the Courts help him to realise the cost to his victims like you through some meaningful reparations.

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eas a cual aluinn falls - the highest in Britain

eas a cual aluinn falls - the highest in Britain

An extraordinary week to be away.  An extraordinary week to be without any of our normal communications; no phone, no broadband, no telly, just  a crackly old boom box which tunes into radio 4 with a protesting hiss and fart, fading out in an explosion of excruciating white noise at the pertinent  point… “Global meltdown!”  “Financial Armageddon…” “A day so black it’s impossible…” “No one has seen the like since 1920…” “The chancellor has just announced…” “Now we are going to our correspondent in Reykjavik for the latest on the collapse…” the rest frustratingly disintegrates in a furious high pitched whine.

Yes, I have savings in an Icelandic bank; researched carefully on such sites as moneysupermarket.com, make-your-money-work, what-to- know-about-investing-your-savings and how-to-get-the-best-out-of-your-money.  Before we left for Scotland I seriously toyed with the idea of moving my money out amid the panic and mayhem – but where to put it? Nothing seemed secure.  In the end I decided it was probably best to leave it alone, after all it was FSI backed.

Through last weekend the panic and collapse of the financial system worsened. We gleaned snippets in the foothills of the Cairngorms of the drama being played out across the world; stock markets crumbling, banks folding.  And in the car driving to Robert’s aspen conference dinner we heard of the American 700 billion dollar bail out being thrown out, and then succeeding in an enlightened form.  Arriving at our destination high in the remote north-west highlands, we learnt of the lack of positive response in world markets, which continued to plummet in chaos and turmoil.

Surreal, and strangely bizarre. On the one hand my eyes and mind were hungrily drinking in the remote ancient wild beauty of a landscape that feeds my very essence and on the other there was the banal, yet very real, material worry that I could lose my hard earned savings.

aspens by the edge of eas a cual aluinn

aspens by the edge of eas a cual aluinn

It would probably be better not to have even a radio.  Not a thing I can do about it.  I now inhabit a part of the world that is clothed in rocks three billion years old.  Today, in a wild isolated hanging valley, I stood at the head of the highest waterfall in Britain, watching a rainbow caught in the fall’s spangled spray which played on quivering, golden leaved aspens;   around me a curtain of blown mist parted to reveal scenery that made me ache with its beauty.  Billions lost? The fall on Wall Street?  The crumbling City? The crazy machinations of bankers? Armageddon? Standing there in the wind and the rain I felt rich beyond words and extraordinarily fortunate.

the mists lift to reveal an extraordinary panorama

the mists lift to reveal an extraordinary panorama

Rural Business Research (RBR), the consortium of leading Agricultural Universities and Colleges that undertakes the Farm Business Survey in England for Defra, has recently published seven enterprise / farm type reports that chart the changing fortunes of agriculture and horticulture.

You may find these facts and figures interesting, particularly for Less Favoured Area (LFA) hill farms. This shows that the average farm loses heavily on livestock production, and only survives because of public payments (Single Payment Scheme (SPS) and agri-environment) and diversification. Even so, the average income of c £11K pa is pitifully low when this has to cover farmer time and any rent. How many non-farming families would be willing to work for a combined salary of £11K pa?

Below is a summery which provides an overview of each report. If you are interested the full reports can be found by following the link. The data is taken from actual farm accounts

Rural Business Research charts the changing fortunes of farming in England

Rural Business Research (RBR), the leading consortium of independent academic units undertaking the influential Farm Business Survey (FBS) in England, presents a series of reports highlighting the changing economic fortunes of farming.

Report Series

Crop Production in England

Pig Production in England

Poultry Production in England

Hill Farming in England

Dairy Farming in England

Lowland Grazing Livestock Production in England

Horticulture Production in England (Horticultural Business Data)

Details and downloads available at http://www.ruralbusinessresearch.co.uk/

Crop Production in England shows that whilst arable fortunes started to improve in 2006/07, many producers had already committed their 2006 harvest to marketing contracts and spot sales, reducing the impact of price increases on the sector. General cropping farms returned a Farm Business Income (FBI) of £317 per hectare, whilst Cereal farms recorded an average FBI of £261 per hectare. The balance sheets of many cropping farms improved, with land value increases resulting in average net worth of cereals and general cropping farms increasing by 10%, to £5200 and £4700 per hectare, respectively. The financial year 2006/07 witnessed an increase in the number of farmers taking part in the Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) scheme with average total receipts from this revenue increasing by £10 per hectare on the previous year. With increasing fuel and fertiliser costs eroding increasing output prices, the wide variation in performance of cropping farms looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Pig Production in England charts the declining UK pig population with sow numbers having fallen to below 400,000 in the UK. Food security is now racing up the political agenda, and the report details how pork production as a percentage of supply has fallen from 116% in 1996-98 to 69% in 2007. The 54 Specialist Pig farms analysed in the report recorded an average feed bill of £120,000, accounting for some 77% of total variable costs and highlighting the plight of the sector as cereal prices continue to rise. The wide range in business performance, and the increasing costs of production, highlights the problems facing many producers – it is clear that the vast majority of producers are currently making substantial losses on their pig production. The rapid decline in the sector as at end of 2007 showed a 4.4% fall in total breeding pigs on the previous year; the fall in gilt numbers was even higher at 16%, reflecting the cut-backs that are occurring in the Industry.

Poultry Production in England identifies that 69% of broiler production takes place on the largest 400 holdings in the UK, with 100,000+ broiler units dominating supply in the sector. With farm gate sales of £1.66 billion in 2006, 90% of domestic demand for poultry meat was satisfied by home-grown production. Egg production is also dominated by a small number of suppliers with 1% of producers accounting for 78% of output by volume and satisfying 89% of the demand for eggs. Whilst egg prices recovered in 2006, gross output to the sector fell due a decline in laying hen numbers. Free range producers saw a slight fall in Farm Business Income (FBI), resulting from increased gross output that was more than offset by higher variable costs. Rising feed costs are likely to result in substantial changes in the fortunes of the poultry industry – profit in the sector is under extreme pressure as variable costs increase placing considerable pressure on the bottom line.

Hill Farming in England examines the costs and returns of farming in England’s “grazing livestock” Less Favoured Area (LFA) farm businesses – with LFAs accounting for 17% of the total farmed area, returns to production in the areas where poor climate, soils and terrain limit activities, have traditionally been lower than many other sectors. In England, 40% of beef cows and 45% of breeding sheep are in the LFAs and farming plays a crucial role in maintaining the distinctive landscape of such areas. LFA Grazing Livestock farms earn some 50% of their total revenue (output) from crop and livestock farming activities with 27% coming from the Single Farm Payment, and 15% from specific agri-environment payments. The balance of revenues is earned from nonfarm/ diversification activities. However, the average LFA farm is losing money to the tune of -£16,044 Farm Business Income (FBI) from crop and livestock production per farm in 2006/7. Revenues earned from the Single Farm Payments, agri-environment schemes and diversification more than offset the losses of the traditional farming enterprises to generate a headline FBI of £10,786 in 2006/7. LFA farms depend to a substantial extent on public payments accounting for more than 40% of their revenues. Total public spending on the LFA farms amounts to £148m per year, or £193/ha. This total spending compares favourably with recent estimates of the social value of upland environments.

Dairy Farming in England details the number challenges faced by the sector during 2006/07, including market conditions of declining milk output price and increasing input costs; average farm gate prices ranged from 16.8 to 19.0 pence per litre. Milk production fell to its lowest level for over a decade, driven by producer numbers falling by 5.4% and continuing the downward trend in the number of dairy farms. In 2006/07 the shortfall of total milk deliveries undershot total national quota by approximately 410 million litres, representing the largest recorded quota undershoot. Farm Business Income (FBI) was £321 per hectare, representing 17% of total farm output. The higher input-output system of the lowland farms returned an average FBI of £340/ha in comparison to the average FBI of £255/ha for LFA farms. Analysis of lowland herds by gross margin performance quartiles indicates that the upper quartile achieved yields of 8000 litres compared to 5700 litres for the lower quartile, and whilst concentrate costs were greater for the upper quartile, the respective gross margins are approximately £1000/cow and £400/cow. The report goes on to note that whilst reduced milk supplies have led retailers to recently increase the milk price, volatility and increases in input costs will erode a substantial element of the increased milk price.

Lowland Grazing Livestock Production in England details that Lowland Grazing Livestock farms account for 10% of the area of farmed land in England, and 17% of the holdings. Lowland grazing holdings typically produce the lowest incomes per farm, per hectare and per annual labour unit. In 2006/07, Farm Business Income (FBI) was £13,500 per business, although large variations in the returns to individual businesses exist, highlighting the negative returns recorded by many in this sector. 20% of businesses make a loss, and two-thirds make less than £20,000 – from which rental value of owned land and the value of farmer and spouse labour must be met. Farm Business Income was lower than private drawings for farms in the lowland grazing livestock production farm type, indicating that on average farmers in this group are eroding their business assets.

Horticulture Production in England (Horticultural Business Data) details that horticulture’s share of total agricultural output has increased by 4% over the last forty five years, and in 2006 was 14.3% of total agricultural output in the UK. In monetary terms, the latest figures for home produced horticultural crops produced in the UK came to £2,107 million. Just over one third of this output is made up of field scale vegetables, although they account for 72% of the total area of horticulture. Hardy nursery stock (22%) and other protected non-edibles (12%) are the next largest in value terms amongst the horticultural sectors. Horticulture Production in England considers the value of home-produced output, the regional importance of production and detailed financial results for horticulture businesses, all based upon the analysis of financial and physical returns from the 207 horticultural businesses within the Farm Business Survey.

Dr Paul Wilson, Chief Executive Elect of Rural Business Research, commented “this series of reports provides the industry with the most comprehensive examination of the economics of agriculture and horticulture in England ever produced – the changes and challenges facing the industry make these reports invaluable to anyone looking to identify key factors to improve profitability

The data collection and analysis presented in the reports has been largely funded by Defra as a key part of the annual Farm Business Survey. Details or downloads of the reports can be found at http://www.ruralbusinessresearch.co.uk/

What do I hope for the future of farming?

What I hope for is probably irrelevant. Our countryside will change hugely in the coming years. Since the Second World War farming and countryside has been in a constant state of flux due to changing food demands and growing new crops. Farming has never been stable; but now more than ever farming has to alter to meet the demands of a planet in crisis.

What can we expect? Fields of tree planting for carbon storage; hectares of elephant grass and acres of withies to fuel power stations; drought resistant crops –sunflowers perhaps; less methane belching grazing animals and huge areas of cereals for human, rather than animal, consumption. We will become more and more conscious of energy (wind farms, solar power), food miles and food security (growing our own), and national biosecurity.

Whenever an industry undergoes massive transformation it’s hard for those involved. Change is frightening and we are not good at accepting it. But I do feel that there are huge opportunities to be had for people with sight, vocation and enthusiasm, but most of all innovation. After all we have to eat to survive. The countryside is changing and I for one will mourn it. I love the quintessential Englishness of our pastoral idle – our patchwork of fields; hedges, trees, woodlands and moorlands; our grazing animals. But preserving that in aspic is no longer something we or the planet can afford: farming and the landscape either change dramatically or we face extinction. The trick will be to guide the change in ways that create beauty and inspiration, that feed our souls as well as our bellies.

cattle-sheltering-by-hedge-2-sharp-and-cleaned-reduced.jpg

endangered?

bluetongue 2

My fears have been confirmed. We are in the bluetongue surveillance zone. I arrived home this evening checked the answer phone and there was the man from DEFRA with his recorded message – in a dead-pan voice he stated ‘some, part, or all of my holding now came within the bluetongue surveillance zone and…’

Below is an excerpt from an email sent to me by a fellow farmer in Norfolk. I won’t add anything. The words tell their own story – poignant and thought provoking.

‘Our stock are our livelihood, such as it is, we run an organic beef suckler herd and 700 laying hens, and work long hours trying to make a living, but that’s life: farmings’ shit at the moment, but what else do we do?’

Last year they were hit by restrictions from both FMD and Avian flu (twice), having just, in the very nick of time, saved their entire suckler herd from drowning during the floods they heard the news about bluetounge. In her own words…

‘Just after that Bluetongue was detected, and we thought Now What!!? how do we deal with this? what are the symptoms? is it contagious? does it cross species? and the media had a field day; yet again; (They virtually camped in the area during the first Avian Flu outbreak- 9 miles from us) and there was no clear information, later on the farmers that had cows with the disease said there were few symptoms to tell they were affected, but since then our vet has been trying to keep abreast of the disease, and how it will affect cows in the future, and it seems as though some of the affects of the disease is to cause infertility in some and may cause calves to be born with abnormalities. I can only liken that to thalidomide in pregnant women. Follow that up again with Liver Fluke and a blasted fox getting my five 12 week old chicks from off the lawn, and traumatising their mother half to death. (she spent hours in the pond to avoid getting caught), and one might wonder why we carry on!’

She ends…

‘Yes, you bet we’re worried, but we can’t allow it to take over our lives. We just take heart that life here, at the moment, goes on in the age old tradition, and we are thankful that at least this year we have some beautiful calves to see bounding and gambolling about, and we will worry when the time comes (and hopefully it won’t). I’ve got enough grey hairs, and F has none, he has pulled all his out over the years!!’

So how will farms and good, caring people like this cope? Beef animal are already making a loss of £139 per animal. Not to mention the heartache caused from tending sick and dying stock. We will loose those very farms and farmers that are trying their best to produce high quality food from healthy, happy, animals whilst caring as best they can for the environment.

Jane has asked for my opinions on set-aside. So here goes, not, I’m afraid, a terribly sexy subject!

Set-aside was originally put in place in the early nineties as a production control measure to take around 10% of arable land out of cropping; it was not an environmental scheme. I can remember the huge outcry from the farming community as some of England’s good arable land lay fallow. Apart from letting the land revert there were specific things you could and could not do to manage the land; these requirements changed over the years. Back at the beginning, for example, you could grow fodder legumes (lucerne, vetches and clovers) and graze at certain times with goats, camilids and horses (hence the exorbitant prices alpacas and lamas commanded back then and the start of the huge surge into horsiculture). These things stick in my mind as I was running a milking herd of goats that benefited from a neighbour’s lucerne hay and some herb-rich grazing. There was some talk of environmental opportunities missed, but the increases is farmland birds and rare arable plants that followed was incidental, not a planned benefit. Read the rest of this entry »

farming has devastated the environment?

‘And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ (the Bible Genesis 1:28).

Shouldn’t it be so? Shouldn’t the earth be used to feed the starving in any way she can? A recipe for global disaster! We need the Earth’s diverse and complex ecosystems to support life, give as the oxygen we breathe. Don’t we need it too to inspire us and bring us wonder? Read the rest of this entry »

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk

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