HAVING HAD 130% of our 40-year mean rainfall in the past 11 months, it was with some relief that I note the November rainfall of 41.1mm was below average.

Talking of averages, we also had 57% of our long-term mean in the two months of July and August, as if we need reminding. The effects of that, both financially and on the soil structure, will be felt for some time to come.

It is little surprise, therefore, that as we draw 2004 to a close, albeit still with 7ha (17 acres) of sugar beet in the ground and 8ha (19.76 acres) of wheat to drill, we will exceed the statutory 8% set-aside level for 2005.

Having changed our position at Sacrewell Lodge from a farm business tenancy to a contract farming agreement to enable our landlord to claim the single farm payment, we no longer have the flexibility of moving set-aside around and so have ended up with nearly 12.7% of set-aside and uncropped land at Easton Lodge.

surplus set-aside

To be fair, of the 10.51ha (26 acres) surplus to set-aside and listed in the table as uncropped, only 4.91ha (12 acres) is a result of pulling the drill out of the field because of poor conditions.

The rest is made up of 20m headlands in sugar beet fields, which we have as a convenience to aid harvesting, and subsequent redrilling into wheat and a legacy from the days when 10% was more the norm to satisfy IACS.

I suspect that the area of established regeneration and 20m sown grass headlands will remain, giving us a minimum set-aside for the future of 9.25% come what may. Hopefully, that will help to win some Brownie points when we start looking at the new entry level scheme in an effort to claw back some of the subsidy lost due to modulation.

On that point, we are seeking professional advice to unravel some of the plethora of rules and regulations coming out of DEFRA to tap into some of environmental payments which may help keep the wolves from the door in the near future.

Talking of which, we had a note from the Rural Payments Agency dated Dec 7 thanking me for our 2004 area aid application which had been received on May 17. Having had a letter from the RPA in June with a schedule of the crops grown on our farm, I was surprised to receive the latest missive, which did not accompany a payment schedule as it had in November in previous years.

query

The department had a query on a 4.34ha (10.72 acre) field of established regenerated set-aside which in previous years had been entered as 3.82ha, but after remapping last year – the first since the A47 trunk road carved off a parcel of land at the south of the farm – the area has changed.

With nearly £50,000 at stake, it is a pity this could not have been dealt with some time during the past seven months!

However, I can report this has now been dealt with over the phone and confirmed by fax, enabling our claim to go ahead for processing. The move of our local RPA office from Cambridge to Newcastle did seem somewhat bizarre at first, but I have to confess that dealing with Geordies has been a pleasure and has restored my faith in DEFRA a little.

I had a most enjoyable visit to the Smithfield Show earlier this month. It seems to be rather more of a treat now that it has moved to every other year and because of that, one tends to make more of an effort to attend.

A reasonably early train from Peterborough, followed by conditions on the Underground that would find me in court if I were to subject our farm livestock to something similar, and I was on the floor of Earl’s Court by 9.30am.

The Farmer Forums programme coincided nicely with a break late morning and lunch, with our esteemed Editor making a very good David Dimbleby look-alike at the farmers weekly Question Time. The real purpose, though, is to take advantage of having nearly everyone you need to talk to under one roof. Twenty-first century technology is fine, but nothing can substitute for eyeball-to-eyeball to sort out a query or research for new equipment.

show support

Although most of the people I wanted to see were on hand, there were some notable absentees, which no doubt accounted for the bare spaces around the periphery of the halls. I hope the show continues to receive support from both the farming public and the exhibitors. It would be sad to see the demise of such a prestigious showcase for our industry.