28 December 2001

Wry observations relieve gloom of a tortuous year

The year could be summed

up in three words – foot

and mouth, but as well as

reporting on serious issues,

our Farmer Focus writers

kept us entertained.

Marianne Curtis reviews

a few of the highs, lows

and laughs of 2001

January

"The New Year has unfortunately started in the same vein as the last one – extremely wet. The optimist in me says there must be a dry spell around the corner, the only problem being it seems to be a long corner."

Chris Knowles, Cornwall

"I have just leased out £450 worth of quota. The same volume last year was worth about £6500. I only hope that over the next 12 months we can see quota off altogether, the last bastion of communist farming and a tax on the young and dynamic."

Christian Fox, Sussex

"The crisp weather of mid-January facilitated baling, yes baling of the remainder of our straw. Although weathered, it is in surprisingly good condition after lying in the swath for 20 weeks."

Alan Montgomery, Co Down

February

"I hope as many people as possible will go to London on March 18 for the Liberty and Livelihood March. It will show this government that we may be a minority, but mean business."

Gordon Capstick, Cumbria

The march was subsequently cancelled due to F&M.

March

"Some benefits have resulted from the F&M crisis. One is I havent wasted any time wondering what to write about this month. Another is my bank manager has been relegated to the category of non-essential caller."

Mike Allwood, Cheshire

"As I write, confirmed cases of F&M are just 10 miles away, but I fear that will have changed by the time you read these notes. Disinfected straw lies across the end of the farm drive, with a bucket and brush available for those who choose to use it. What more can we do? These efforts seem futile; a token gesture."

Steve Morris, Lancs

"We managed to send some stock to the abattoir. While washing out the trailer, suddenly all gates were locked with no one allowed in or out. A hopping sheep was suspected of having F&M. I had visions of having to send an SOS for food parcels and pyjamas."

Gordon Capstick

"Grass is almost as scarce as MAFF-approved disinfectant."

Christian Fox

"The practicalities of no stock movements are proving difficult in day-to-day farm management as lambing looms and space here is limited."

John Yeomans, Powys

April

"Grass growth is non-existent and this looks like being one of the latest springs in the last decade."

Steve Morris

"Our boys have constructed a Lego farm complete with disinfectant dip, upside down animals and the obligatory intrusive TV crew."

John Yeomans

"If F&M gets closer, grazing safety must be considered as there would be a greater risk of cows catching air-borne virus."

Miles Saunders, Oxon

"It is difficult to find out how many farms have been involved in contiguous culls. Are we being given the whole picture or has it been spun to a more presentable level by MAFF?"

Bill and Jonathan Metcalf, Yorks

May

"I have just collected my supply of semen for the year, much to my relief. Since February 27, the AI service and semen distribution have been suspended as an F&M precaution. I reckon there will be many cows calving in late January 2002."

Richard Hinchion, Co Cork

"Maize drilling got underway on May 2. On light land it has gone in well, but achieving good seedbeds on heavy land has been difficult this year."

Richard Thompson

"Smelling the acrid smoke around the yard first thing in the morning, brought here on the prevailing south-west wind from one of the dozen or so pyres we can see most days, isnt the best start to the day."

Peter Delbridge, Devon

June

"Selling our stock is turning into a frustrating activity, without auction marts. There is a two-tier price structure in place, with those of us in infected areas having fewer outlets, so being forced to take a lower price."

Steve Morris

"What a difference a few days can make, with regional status for the province allowing milk, sheep and pigmeat exports to recommence."

Alan Montgomery

"The most dull and uneventful election for some time has come and gone. After my election contribution to farmers weekly, I am now known as Tory boy."

Chris Knowles

July

"It is rare for the government to look fairly on pig farming, but the On-goers Scheme was a chance to receive some help."

Dennis Bridgeford

"One group of animals which has benefited from F&M is the tups. Conscious of maintaining biosecurity by buying as few stock as possible, the old boys are receiving five star treatment."

Peter Delbridge

"We hired a very young sweeper bull for the first time this year. The cows thought it was great to have a toy boy, but I knew things werent right when I saw an old cow chasing the exhausted bull around the paddock."

Richard Thompson, Norfolk

August

"As I have started to spend money, the pig price has fallen dramatically. It is all the more exasperating when you consider that pig numbers are at a 50-year low.

Dennis Bridgeford

"I have decided the only long-term way to deal with rabbits is to erect a decent, permanent rabbit fence. This will not be cheap, but I understand 50 rabbits can eat as much as a cow, which puts the problem in perspective."

Chris Knowles

"I was struggling to get hold of John, the big square baler man. His wife phoned me with his new mobile number as hed baled his old phone that morning. An interesting dietary addition for somebodys stock."

John Yeomans

September

"There has been a continual flow of heavy rainstorms this summer, keeping grass growing. This is a real bonus, as the farm usually resembles the Gobi Desert."

Richard Thompson

"With sheep auctions a long way off restarting, Stags auctioneers organised a video sale. Being first on the sale catalogue, my ewes were filmed two weeks earlier than was ideal. It was amazing how the few lame ewes were the least camera shy."

Peter Delbridge

"One problem solved is that of deciding whether to attend the now cancelled first ewe sale at Clitheroe or my brothers wedding on the same day. A few locals were amazed that I would have even contemplated missing the ewe sale."

Steve Morris

October

"The lack of rain resulted in a severe shortage of grass, so the few cows still in milk are grazing something similar to fried seaweed found in the Chinese take-away."

Clyde Jones, Dorset.

"After an eight-month break we have started the TIR farm project meetings again. It was really good to get together and start looking forward."

John Yeomans

"The man on the DEFRA movements helpline told me he didnt make the rules. I have found a useful tactic is to tell them I have a button on my phone which will deliver an electric shock to irritating bureaucrats – patent pending.

Tim Gue, Sussex.

November

"October was a near perfect month for us – 12.5cm (5in) rain and many warm, dry days. The net result was a huge flush of autumn grass. But the local old boys delighted in telling me: Theres nothing in that wet, autumn rubbish." (polite version).

Chris Knowles

"We are working on breeding four-eared Buelahs or perhaps a generation of lambs with a knitted wool breast pocket to keep all their identity stuff in."

John Yeomans

"We are disappointed to hear the dairy companies have decided not to match producers money in the next phase of the White Stuff milk advertising campaign. Co-operating with dairy producers is not one of their strengths."

Sue and Andy Guy, Notts

December

"Silage looks good and I was expecting great things from it, so it was sobering to discover we are producing the same amount of milk/cow from it as we were this time last year."

Mike Allwood

"I think I will remember the phone call for years to come, when the man from the ministry called to say that because we had delivered cull sows to the plant where F&M was first confirmed, we would require a herd inspection from a MAFF vet."

Dennis Bridgeford, Ross-shire

Fortunately he was in the clear.

"Sadly we will have to enter some stock on the welfare scheme as we currently have about 1200 sheep and 190 cattle on 36ha (90 acres) that we are unable to sell or move to the rest of our ground."

John Yeomans

Mr Yeomans was farming under a Form D notice.

"The literature which accompanied DEFRA autumn movements information stated stock could be moved up to 500km by road on foot. Were thinking of setting off for north Wales with some fat lambs and the dog so it could be a while before were heard of again."

Bill and Jonathan Metcalf

"Sometimes a gentle stroll down the track at dusk is required to restore a sense of proportion. How lucky we are to be able to live and work amid such beauty."

Mike Allwood

Next week, find out our Farmer Focus contributors New Year wishes.