I’m sitting at my kitchen table with a selection of letters from the powers that be and quite frankly, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
On the one hand the RPA has written me a letter saying that our application for reserve entitlements has been successful – fantastic! This means we will be able to claim BPS on the whole farm area.
On the other hand, I received another letter telling me that our payment was unlikely to arrive before the end of January. Oh bugger.
With 38% of farmers paid on the first of December, I’m sure the RPA are feeling rather pleased with themselves, but that little letter has landed us and tens of thousands of other farmers in a whole heap of uncertainty and put a real dampener on the festive preparations.
Will is optimistically sticking to the belief that it is just an insurance policy to cover themselves and he is sure our payment will arrive soon. I’m not so sure – I can recall the chaos of the last CAP reform when the SFP was born.
Usually, we receive our payment on the first day and as such we tend to plan our cashflow around when we expect to get it, as do many farmers.
We’re now left in a real quandary over what to do about selling cattle, buying calves, ordering feed and so on.
Another missive inducing mixed feelings is from none other than Natural England. It looks like they are going to offer us an agreement under the new mid-tier Countryside Stewardship scheme (CSS). I was expecting to hear about this in early November and had assumed we hadn’t been successful, so this was a bit of a surprise.
Obviously they were struggling to deal with the mountain of applications and this made them miss their deadline for offering agreements.
In true bureaucratic style they have informed me that they expect all the supporting evidence by the original 15 December deadline, only 10 days away at the time of writing, so it looks like I’m going to be out trudging up and down those blasted hills again, camera in hand, to document 5,000-odd metres of Cornish hedges to prove that they need fencing.
Maybe I can round up an armed posse and turn it into a festive rough shoot. Our pheasant population is getting out of hand now the local driven shoots have started blasting in earnest.
Honestly though, I’m feeling rather smug about the CSS offer. I worked so hard to understand the scheme’s requirements and was so diligent in my application, I would have been truly heartbroken if they had told me it was all rubbish.
The part of the farm the agreement will cover is such a hidden gem and exactly the type of land that should be supported through grants like this.
There is no way we could ever make a business case for all the work that I put in our application, but the importance of the features to the ecological diversity of the area need to be protected and I’m thrilled that it looks like we are going to get the opportunity to do so.
Of course, the added bonus of keeping the livestock in the right fields will be of enormous benefit too.
On a chirpier and less cynical note, in true entrepreneurial style, we have dived headlong into the Christmas tree business. William grumbles every year that we should try to capitalise on Christmas and the thousands of visitors to the big house that pass our door for the festive events they put on.
A chance flick through the classifieds of this very publication put us in touch with Helen in Shrewsbury and we are now the proud owners of a pop-up Christmas tree shop.
The old stone yard looks more like Narnia than Cornwall and the kids have been enjoying playing hide and seek among the firs.
Business is starting to pick up as we progress through advent and I have been putting my Facebook habit to more productive use by maintaining our business page and liaising with customers.
Daphne the puppy has not been doing much for customer relations – the other day a very smartly dressed lady in a lovely cream, floor length coat got a true cocker spaniel welcome and left with muddy footprints, not only all over her coat but splattered up the side of her pristine white car as well.
I don’t think that we will make up for our lack of BPS money by selling trees this year, but it’s good fun and at least it gives me another good excuse to avoid the Christmas shopping crowds.
I’ve been bombarding all our friends and neighbours with Christmas tree-related marketing and lambasting every one of my acquaintances who has the cheek to tell me that they go for a fake tree.
Unfortunately, William took my request in last month’s column for a wheelbarrow for Christmas at face value and is now refusing to take the hint that I might like it filled with a number of other items I might have conveniently placed in my online shopping basket.
I mean, how hard can it be? All he has to do is hit the ‘pay now’ button. Amazon will even wrap the stuff for him!