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February 2011 - Posts - .

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February 2011 - Posts

Are you a savvy rural entrepreneur?

 

A few weeks ago I got talking via Twitter (follow me @redmanmatt) to Will Frazer from farmingfutures.org.uk, and it ended up with me being asked to write 400(ish) words for the Farming Futures blog about the '3 skills farmers will have in 10 years time, and what additional 3 skills will the top 10% have?'

So here it is...

http://www.farmingfutures.org.uk/blog/are-you-savvy-rural-entrepreneur

To early for combine pictures?

... probably, but seeing as it's so wet and horrible at the moment I thought I'd put a few up.

 

Here's a few of my favourite ones..

Harvest 2009 - The second combine I ever drove... Claas Lexion 580+TT with 35ft header (the first being a 30ft 580TT!)

And finally, seeing as its currently the title image for the blog..

 

Let's hope it all dries up pretty soon now as its horrible weather to be attempting hedge laying, and my list of spraying and fertiliser recommendations is slowly getting longer - if that wasn't enough the Spring Bean seed arrived today; a nice reminder of all the ground work still to be done!

 

CFE

 

To avoid a case Chinese whispers if I relay some of the facts wrong, I’m not going to try and explain what exactly the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) is, instead I’m going to be slightly lazy and just give you the link to the website... www.cfeonline.org.uk and just say that it’s a voluntary initiative designed to help show that farmers can produce food and care for the environment (matching and improving the benefits set-a-side used to provide) at the same time, without the need for government legislation. It is backed by a number of industry bodies including the NFU, CLA, FWAG, Defra, RSPB, LEAF and Environment Agency to name a few. 

 

However I will try and explain how important I think it is that farmers get involved with it.

Over the last few day’s I’ve been following the Fwi forum thread regarding the (CFE) and the warning from farms minister Jim Plaice (http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2011/02/09/125422/Minister-to-farmers-Go-green-or-else.htm) that unless more is done by farmers - to ensure CFE is a success - then the government may consider a compulsory approach – something that has already been done in France, and is resulting in the French pushing for compulsory set-a-side across the EU. This would also not be like the old type of set-a-side, and would involve more environmental management and probably no chance to grow industrial crops such as OSR on it.

This, it seems has not gone down well with some farmers, with the main arguments being that they already do alot of what the CFE is asking and why do we need more ‘red tape’ and forms to fill in? The other main argument is that half the world is starving, so why are we being ‘forced’ to take land out of production.It’s not all bad news, with alot of the negativity being focused on the need to carry out more form filling, most agree that a lot of farmers already have the voluntary measures required by CFE in place so actually the environment is still benefitting – CFE or not. However, this is also where the problem arises (and my disagreement) because there is a very important reason for taking part in the CFE and filling in the surveys and, believe it or not, that is too actually reduce the amount of ‘red tape’, form filling and ultimately government legislation that forces farmers by law to do more for the environment (probably in less convenient and flexible ways to what’s available currently as well).

Most of the ‘anti’ CFE comments are valid points, but unfortunately, it’s not reasonable or practical to expect the public or government to simply allow farmers to farm every hectare possible or to expect a sudden reduction in legislation, paperwork and ‘red tape’ – these may become a reality if there is a further significant increase in the demand for food worldwide, or continued increase in food prices that change the current views on the environment and food production. This maybe a fairly blunt view, but as I see it form filling and legislation compliance is here to stay, just like in other industries – farming is just higher profile and has lot more people who want to tell us how to do things – resulting in the industry having to be ‘extra compliant’ via more red tape etc.

Regrettably as an industry we’re going to have to get used to the paperwork and inspections, as even if the environmental legislations/policies change, there will probably still be assurance schemes and pesticide regulations or anything else that could affect the health and well being of the consumer.

Overall, I think alot of the criticisms of the CFE are down to people not understanding how it works, and what the effects of it failing are, rather than actually not wanting to look after the environment. There are still those who think we should farm every Ha and that the environment will look after itself, but the past has shown this is not always the case – which is one of the main reasons we’re in the situation we are now. I haven’t got any better ideas on how to inform people about CFE’s importance and implications of it failing, but firing warning messages at people who are confused about what they’re being warned about doesn’t seem to have worked 100%...

 

Technically 'Holiday' pictures... but not really..

 

It seems that if I put the word 'pictures' into the title of a blog post, it gets alot more views..

Seeing as I'm technically on holiday this week I don't have much farm stuff to talk about other than I've received a fairly long list of spray recommendations to get done as soon as its dry, and that the pigeons are starting to appear in greater numbers on the OSR.

I say technically on holiday because I haven't gone away, and am probably doing just as much work as if I was actually at work. This is because I've recently had the paperwork through for a small field I've brought, which currently is covered mainly with blackthorn trees and 'scrub' that is of little use to anything other than rabbits. So I have been busy clearing some of it so that some grass can be sown and a few areas planted with some 'proper' trees and maybe plants if I'm feeling adventureous, its suprising how big a pile of 'sticks' you get from an area of about 3/4 acre! 

I am also planning to lay the front hedge next week to try an improve it as currently full of gaps you can walk through.. it will be a challenge and a half as the actual hedge plants are getting on for tree size. But in the longterm it should help to provide a stock proof boundary as well as a better hedgerow for birds etc - I'll put some pictures up as work progesses.

While on what can only be described as a path of destruction pulling out the blackthorn, I've also been helping to dig up the farm yard at home in preparation for concreting - a job that seems to be getting completed for the YFC rally, but has been on the cards for a while. There are now two large areas or holes waiting to be filled, one to extend the concrete in front of the grainstore and another to create a pad to wash the lorries, complete with cattlegrid style sump to collect dirt/mud before it gets into the drains.

 

Top Gear's 'Snowbine'

 

Anyone that just watched this week's Top Gear will know what I'm on about, anyone else take a look on the BBC iplayer..

 

It was a pretty entertaining and random dig at the shambles encountered when the country had some snow a month or so ago...

 

I google'd for a picture..

and also came across this -

 There'd be a slight floor with the idea if the police wanted you to have a 'wide load' escort!

Colouring and Counting... and lots of measuring..

The last two days have been spent helping to sort out the ELS (Entry Level Stewardship) application, after finally getting the correct maps with all of the farm on them from Natural England. This involved going round the farm checking trees, hedges, ditches etc and whether or not they are the right size, have the right species in them and what area or length they are. After that all of the environmental features of the farm (pretty much everything I'd just looked at) had to be recorded onto the Farm Environmental Record (FER) maps - so alot of colouring - and then the different options we wanted to use for the ELS application had to be chosen, the points they would gain added up, and finally these then had to be added to another map! So... more colouring and labelling!

I'm now pretty well pretty well informed on all the EB, EE, EF etc options available and the number of points they are worth, as well as where each option is located on the farm..

All that is left is to transfer all of the options we've chosen onto the final application form - any additional options/points we have included that are not needed to meet our ELS points target will be logged for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment - I'll write a blog post about this later in the week as its an important campaign and I won’t have much else to write about as I now have a week’s holiday (although being boring and not actually going anywhere).

 

Few pictures from today..

 

We weren't the only ones making the most of the sunshine and dry conditions today, while we applied fertiliser to the rest of the OSR and made a start on the second wheats, one of our neighbours was drilling Winter Wheat..

 

OSR gets some 'Red Bull'

 

After a windy few days everywhere has dried up nicely, enough in fact to make our agronomist text me at 6.15am this morning with the recommendation to apply some Nitrogen to the OSR, and second wheats as soon as possible.

Hopefully the early nitrogen will have a 'Red Bull' effect and help it to 'wake up' and start growing -  although I'd rather it didn't give the OSR wings, pigeons are becoming a big enough problem without the OSR flying off.

 

A pre-spring clean...

The 21st May still seems a long way off, but it seems to be all go around the farm at home in preparation for the big day (we're hosting the Bedfordshire Young Farmers Show/Rally at home) and as a result I don't seem to be able avoid being roped in to help with the tidying up when I'm about at weekends...

Today involved relocating a lorry body that is used for random storage (the things no-one knows where to put!)... and yesterday involved playing photographer to get a picture of the hosts (Dad, his Dad, his two cousins and their Dad) for the Young Farmers Yearbook and Show/Rally Schedule.. a task that took all morning as we ended up having to lay aload of tarmac where the yard had recently been dug up - to install some new drains before parts of the yard and the new shed are concreted (another job before the big day).

Not sure what they'll think of the picture going on here... but here it is...

Bad things come in 3's...

 

So far this week things haven't been going so well...Monday started off well with the frost and bright, clear, wind free day providing the perfect conditions to spray the OSR with 'Crawler' to sort out the Blackgrass.. The problems started in the afternoon when the frost was pretty much gone and it started to get a bit sticky. Having only half a tank of the last load left, and the fact that Crawler is a granule chemical and would separate if left in the tank, I carried on spraying (conditions were still perfect, and travelling on the field wasn't making much of a impression still). Two tramlines from finishing I noticed the front mudguard wobble, and before I'd had time to switch the sprayer off and stop... It'd fall off and gone under the back terra tyre... I must have pretty good reactions as I ended up stopping on top of it, probably doing more harm than if I'd driven straight over it! I just hope it was worth getting the sprayer out of the shed and the blackgrass finally gives up its fight to survive. 

Then, Tuesday morning I was informed the rear window of the feeder tractor had self destructed into tiny pieces when the driver had tried to close it...

Finally, today started well with ploughing in full swing and muck carting going well... but all was not to be, and finally the shear amount of muck the grab handles each year has got the better of it and the bottom box section broke away from the vertical brackets, twisted and split in a number of places... not un-repairable but not a 5minute job either, so for the time being we'll have to make do with the dairy's smaller grab.

Bad things come in 3's.. so I'm told, so hopefully we've had all the problems for the time being and we can get on with finishing the ground work, sorting out the ELS application and then get ready to be permanently in the sprayer or drilling tractor for a few months.

 

Agriculture's Image

 

One thing that is beginning to wind me up is people thinking that farmers are old fashioned, and drive around on cab-less tractors, wearing a straw hat and chewing a bit of grass...   Or that farming is easy. I warn you, it may turn into a rant (hopefully constructive!) before I finish.

I'll start with the latter, which was probably sparked off by tonight’s 'A farmer’s life for me...' programme on BBC2. I suppose it did show that farming is actually hard work, and that there’s alot more to farming than just sticking some seeds in the ground or buying a few animals. But for once it would be nice for some 'competitors' who actually have a vague idea of farming to take part? So then rather than a load of failed attempts at a simple electric fence, or a field shelter than didn't have any walls we'd see exactly is required, and the challenges faced in providing adequate stock housing and fencing. Failing that, maybe the 'competitors' should all be sent on a number of short courses before filming to give them some basic guidance towards what they are trying to achieve - a profitable 'farming' enterprise.

At the moment I don't think it really portrays what being a farmer actually entails, but maybe that will change as the series progresses... what it does do well I thought though, is show exactly how some people view farming - a hobby/lifestyle not a complicated business with tight restrictions and profit margins (there wasn't a single mention of any movement paperwork for any of the animals!) 

 

Going back to the first comment about how people view farmers probably surfaced after reading the article in FW about the image the science museum is projecting of farming, and then taking a look on the FWi forum thread about the subject.

I think there are some interesting points raised about how agriculture is viewed as a whole, rather than just in the science museum; the article talking about how the exhibit depicts 1960's style agriculture as 'modern day' and that it doesn’t look appealing or exciting to viewers. Take for example the adverts on TV that contain tractors or farms, 9/10 the tractors are Fordson Majors, Ferguson T-20's or similar, with milk churns and farmers stacking up loose hay in the fields. These adverts are seen by more people than the science museum displays, and go a long way to giving people the stereo typical image of an outdated comical farmer. What the agricultural industry needs is to show off the technologies it uses like variable rate application using GPS (a double edged sword - not only fancy and technical but helping reduce artificial input so gains environmental publicity too!) or tractors that contain switches, buttons and touch screens to keep children interested and talking about what they see for ages after they've seen it.

From this in the 1920's... (taken from FW article)

..To this in the 2000's

However, to achieve this the people in the industry need to come up with ideas, not criticism and work with places like the science museum move forward and portray agriculture how it really is in the 21st century and to change the image of agriculture from the old farmer chewing grass, in his straw hat while bouncing down the road on a Fordson Major; to that of an enthusiastic, younger person who has all of the benefits of modern technology available to them to produce food and look after the environment in the comfort (and safety) of a cab.. Whether or not this image is true for all farmers isn't overly important. Some farmers will argue that showing off the image of big shiny kit packed with technology will make people argue that if farmers can afford that, why do they need subsidies? The answer to that (i think) is that changing the image of the stereo typical farmer is only the tip of the iceberg, and what farmers, the agricultural industry, and exhibits such as the one at the science museum also need to do is start to/ continue to educate people that all of the ‘big’ new kit they see in the farmers weekly or holding them up on the road is needed to meet the demands for cheap food they set. It might also be an advantage to be more open with figures such as gross margins/production costs to help people understand that farmers can’t always afford this ‘big’ kit but that to keep their business moving forwards into the future they have to take the risk of purchasing it. How the best way of doing that is I'm not sure, maybe through the internet via websites like twitter, youtube and blogs?

The FWi forum thread also highlighted another element of the whole argument that gets me annoyed - people complaining farming is getting to high tech with all the electronics. I think its views, and the refusal to commit to the new technologies that have held the image of the industry back. Farming has got to move forward and farmers have got to invest in the future through new machinery and buildings or the younger generation will find a different career. Some farmers may have the view that there’s nothing wrong with old kit, and don’t get me wrong, there’s not - but there’s limits to it and sometimes shying away from new kit for too long results in it being nearly impossible to afford reinvestment or change machinery to comply with new regulations such as trailer brakes or lighting regulations.

The agricultural industry is just as high tech and skilled as any other, and has amazing potential to move forward through utilising the new technologies that become available -  there will always be those who shy away from these developments for one reason on another and unfortunately it will be those who complain and are left behind. It has however got to stop point the finger, and criticizing and start pulling together and doing something about how it is viewed by others. Open Farm Sunday and other initiates like it are starting to make progress, but more support is needed to make the big changes that are required!  Rant over, I hope it makes sense. I'll go back to my normal, easy read 'whats going on' posts tomorrow..