Farmer Focus : Alistair Mackintosh - Farmers Weekly

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Farmer Focus : Alistair Mackintosh

FIRST, I WOULD like to thank everyone for their concern over the extra duties I mentioned last month. Normal service has now been restored.

The mole trouble has also been resolved, and I now have a professional mole catcher who is doing an excellent job. I could do with persuading my neighbours to do the same.

Lambing is well under way as I write. We lamb outside, so weather plays an important part in its success. Unfortunately, we have had cold nights with on a couple of occasions over an inch of rain. I often consider myself lucky to be a farmer, but at times like this I have doubts.

I lamb with help from my shepherd, Bill. Everyone should have a Bill. He is particularly good at marking up ewes and lambs and would be an asset to DVLC with his ingenious combinations of letters and numbers.

Bill is steady, lets nothing past him, has an excellent memory for ewe faces, twining skills are second to none and I would be lost without him. On reflection, I think I help him.

I have taken an afternoon off from lambing to fill in my SP5 form. As this is the most important piece of office work I am likely to do for a long time, I felt it had to take precedence over everything else. Having never had set-aside before, I despair at having to set aside some temporary pasture and the costs it incurs.

I have received my digital maps; surprise, surprise, some land was missing. After waiting in a long phone queue and after a 30 second conversation, I was told I can use maps I used for the 2004 IACS application.

Thirty acres of spring barley has been planted, but, unfortunately, one of the heavy April downpours caused a beck to overflow and I will have to replant about 1ha (2.47 acres) of it.

Farmer Focus : Alistair Mackintosh

MARCH HASN”T been a goodmonth. Angela, my wife, ruptured the ligaments in both knees on a skiing trip with the kids. She will be in plaster for some time, so that”s me chief cook and bottle washer as well as doing the school run for the foreseeable future.

After a bad start, calving is now about half way through. Ewes are looking well and by the time you read this we should have started lambing.

A combination of diet and what appears to have been infection in bedding has resulted in lameness in fattening bulls. However, we are well on top of it now and bulls are making good progress.

The recent dry spell has probably saved a field of winter barley, which was destined to be ploughed out. All early fertiliser has been applied and I don”t want to tempt fate, but a small amount of warm rain wouldn”t go amiss.

The chairman of the National Fallen Stock Company, Michael Seals, came to Carlisle last month. High on the agenda was the cost involved now compared with before the scheme.

One issue centred around the similarity between prices charged by collectors operating the scheme in our area. We were assured NFSCo is in no way involved with pricing arrangements, which each company had set. Market force was seen as the driving force as far as price was concerned.

Once again, I feel we farmers are victims of market forces because we cannot exert any control. Therefore, I suggested NFSCo should have some sort of accountability to its members and should be more proactive with managing the pricing structure so members receive better value for money.

If we don”t see this happening, I have to question the relevance of NFSCo – once the government subsidy runs out and we are left at the mercy of the unsubsidised market forces – if they are unable to represent their members concerns.

Farmer Focus: Alistair Mackintosh

BY THE time you read this, if all grazing land has not been top dressed with nitrogen, it will be because ground conditions won”t allow. Where there are no sheep grazing, grass is growing and I”m keen to top dress soon.

Winter barley has had nitrogen applied, however, some of it has a lot to do in the next fortnight otherwise it may be turned into a spring crop.

 I seem to have a plague of moles this year, they are springing up all over. Why they haven”t drowned is beyond me. Finding someone to do the necessary is almost impossible, so I have bought some traps with limited success. I”m assuming this is to do with the new traps and not my incompetence.

 Ewes have been scanned and, pleasingly, they are carrying more lambs this year. They have all been separated and are being fed accordingly. I dream every year of achieving as many live lambs as have been scanned. Well, we all have our dreams.

 More than 30 barren ewes have been sold and the price wasn”t bad. However, the real bonus is not having any retention periods and being able to sell when I choose.

 DEFRA has recently announced it is likely to be unable to pay the single farm payment early in the payment window, which begins in December this year.

Not only will it be unable to pay in December, but there is some doubt it can pay in February as has been suggested. Even if payments are made in February, there is an enormous gap from the end of 2004 when most 2004 payments would have been sent out.

 My business will face a large cash flow problem, not only that, when processors see producers as having to sell stock to pay bills, they will no doubt take advantage.

 The cost to our business with lower prices and the extra burden on interest charges could be significant. It is, therefore, vital that DEFRA makes an advanced payment in December.

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