Not much farm work is being done at present. Besides, the ground is now almost too soft to walk on, let alone drive on.
All the cattle are indoors, calves are weaned – much to their mothers’ relief – and all are happily munching their way through a large pit of silage. Time is spent mostly on maintenance work and pushing paper around the office.
A few days off over Christmas gave me time to reflect on the past year and consider the challenges in 2015. For once I am not saying that I am glad to see the back of the old one (the years seem to be going quickly enough), as it turned out alright in the end. Harvest was quite good, prices have strengthened in the past few weeks, cattle have performed well and I received my SFP on time.
This year, however, could present some bigger challenges. A new Basic Payment regime, the three-crop rule, a new version of set-aside and an apparent policy of “brown is bad but green is good” highlight some of the ignorance and naivety of policy makers.
I fear all this will be particularly difficult to implement in Northern Ireland as we move towards a “flat-rate” system, especially for those currently holding high-value entitlements and renting land. I dread to imagine what the 2015 application form will be like. All this at a time when our Department of Agriculture is being forced to find £30m in budget savings.
Laying off 300 staff will save about £5m, but that still leaves £25m to find. The research budget seems to be one favourite area for cuts – an easy one for politicians as the negative effects are not easily apparent to voters.
Meanwhile, they seem to be insistent on spending millions on a new HQ – not the wisest use of public money when your budget is under severe pressure, I would suggest.
Robert Moore farms on the Molenan Estate in Northern Ireland, where his family have farmed for more than 200 years. He switched to arable production in the late 1990s, away from beef and sheep. He still has a small suckler herd on unsuitable arable land.