March 2009 - Posts
Anyone who has been around agriculture a while will remember Steven Bullock with affection. He sadly died recently but memories of his contribution to farming will be remembered for years to come.
In the days when Farmers Weekly used to manage farms, Steven Bullock was an immensely important figure. He was managing director of this business for 25 years between 1963-1988 and at one point was responsible for a group of nine farms.
Our publisher had set up these farms across the Uk and Northern France as a test bed for innovation and to demonstrate best practice in a range of locations and environments. Nowadays, we do this through our farmer focus and barometer writers, plus initiatives like the Farmers Weekly Awards. The idea was that we would report back regularly in the magazine on the activities, progress and problems on farm warts and all.
Steven's role in managing the business coincded with an era dubbed the second agricultural revolution. It was a period which experienced a rapid uptake of science based innovations which changed farming methods and increased productivity. How times have changed.
In 1988 Steven Bullock moved on to take over as Director of the Nuffield Farming Scholarships organisation. That legacy continues today as Steven and his wife Gill generously kickstarted an Award scheme for former scholars who have best applied their learning into business life. The Steven and Gillian Bullock Award began in 2007 and Farmers Weekly is happy to be involved in helping select the winners each year.
Steven had many other links with agricultural. He was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Farmers, a member of the Royal Agricultural Society, the Farmers Club, a chairman of the Sussex Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and the Mid Sussex Farm Management Discussion Group.
Steven lived with his wife Gillian at East Holme Farm, Maresfield, East Sussex. He is survived by Gillian, his two children and many grandchildren. He was a quiet unassuming and sincere man who played a pivotal role in British agriculture.
I'd like to thank John Stones, Director of Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust, for his help in putting this obituary together.
What's the best way of motivating a DEFRA vet? Remember these are men and women tackling some pretty tough work - Bovine TB, bluetongue, stressed farmers etc. Well, you stick them in a room together, make them play games and encourage them to find their inner self through banging drums loudly. At least that's what DEFRA seems to have done with about 130 of its staff working in animal health.
One of the vets involved rang our news editor Jonathan Riley very distressed yesterday complaining about the exercise. She was really upset and angry that what she thought would be a useful strategy day turned out to be something less serious. "We wasted an entire day playing games, mucking about and banging drums," she said. "I was appalled that taxpayers will foot the bill for this when we are actually employed to fight disesase."
The news team is trying to investigate the complaint to see what DEFRA were really trying to achieve...... if it was an effort to be motivational and build a team spirit then poor old DEFRA officials have backfired again.
It's been a frustrating couple of days in the Farmers Weekly news room. We've been waiting for weeks for the set aside consultation announcement, which was hastily made yesterday. The team has tried to work with the DEFRA communications machine to ensure we have some advance warning of the launch of the document so we can do justice to it in print as well as online. Planning ahead editorially is crucial if we are to give the right amount of pages to the right things.
The soundings from DEFRA were entirely positive to this idea. They would tip us off when it was coming and we would ensure adequate coverage was given to this crucial consultation process. Well, it won't surprise you to know that DEFRA once again failed to play ball. We don't expect them to organise their schedules around the media but we do expect them to be mindful of the most effective ways of communicating these initiatives to the farming industry. Despite all the reassurances, promises, planning and negotiation, the set aside consultation came out of the blue yesterday morning with no advance warning when we had virtually wrapped up the issue of the magazine for this week.
That's why there's only one story and leader given over to the topic in print this week, although more to come in the weeks ahead. It's moments like this that the website comes into its own. We'll be running daily stories about the consultation process on the site and healthy forum debate with farmers about the nitty gritty of the proposals.
This is a one off opportunity for farmers to influence future Government thinking and policy on the thorny issue of marrying production and environmental needs. So everyone should be encouraged to participate in giving their views on the options. If DEFRA is to be convinced that the voluntary approach is feasible, we need farmers to engage enthusiastically with the environmental debate. Otherwise we will be forced down a road of compulsory set aside at great expense to the industry.
Natural England wants 70 per cent of all eligible land to be included in future ELS, while at present only 50 per cent is covered. This is a major ask and requires those farmers already involved to renew their ELS and many more to sign up. Communication of all this is a major challenge as ELS doesn't have the best PR at the moment and future changes to it make it sound even trickier to take on not easier.
One of the key planks of any future approach will be around more targetted ELS activity. This means farmers choosing the right options for their own geographical location ie the best approaches to deliver maximum benefit for the environment depending on individual circumstances. Sir Don Curry, who chairs the Government's set aside policy group, told me yesterday that this will require more agronomists and environmental advisers, well briefed in all new ELS options, to be available to guide farmers in the right direction.
The consultation lasts 12 weeks so there is plenty of time for us all to get our heads around the issues. Our job is to make sense of all the policy speak that overloads the process. Just the title of the consultation document is enough to put anyone to sleep. It reads: Environment Standards for Farming - Consultation on proposed changes to standards on cross compliance Good Agricultural & Environment Condition (GAEC) and related measures.
What a mouthful.
Talk about making Government more accessible to the people, this is an example of where the bureaucrats pay lipservice to the words user friendly. The document is heavy going and not that accessible for farmers. It will take the NFU and others quite a while to decipher.
Let us know your views on the forums.
We’re in danger of sounding like a well worn record on bluetongue vaccinations.
But it seems the message FW, vets and others keep giving has not yet sunk in. If you have not seen the bluetongue disease in your area, do not assume you won’t.
Too many UK farmers still believe they can avoid vaccinating because they have no experience of the disease. Thousands of vaccine doses have been wasted, terrible risks taken with the national herd and vets have been left to pick up the bill.
Bluetongue has not been endemic in this country thanks to the sterling efforts to vaccinate by 80 per cent of farmers in the south east and east anglia. They built a firewall of protection that saved the day last year but it is dangerous to rely on the actions of a few when the responsibility should lie with the whole farming community..
Midges are already active in some parts of the country and we need everyone to get behind the jab campaign before turning out livestock. The threat is still there either through windborne incursion or via animals legally brought in from the Continent.
Anyone in any doubt about the risks simply has to look at the devastation in France where 20,000 holdings were hit with BTV8. Look at the map of Europe in this week's issue of the magazine and you will see that the UK fares better that most other countries on the various bluetongue strains.
This year, we should be concerned about BTV8 and the new BTV1 strain because the latter is blighting France farms and threatens to come across the channel. The cold weather is no guarantee to stopping the spread. Vets are warning that midge larvae and possibly adults could have survived the cold snap. It only takes a few days of milder weather for breeding to start with a vengeance and we’ve already seen some of that in the last couple of weeks in the south.
In protecting your farm by vaccinating, you are helping to eradicate the disease nationally. Unlike TB, bluetongue is a problem we can tackle head-on and is not a burden we are forced to live with.
Those who vaccinated their stock last year will simply need to administer a single jab again this year with the booster. Those who did not should give two doses with three weeks in between. Farmers in the south are being encouraged to vaccinate against the BTV1 strain as well.
Taking effective control now and acting collectively demonstrates real understanding of the disease. More importantly it sends a crucial signal to Government that farmers are in charge of their own destiny.