Farmer Focus: Does Gove want us to be farmers or gardeners?

Winter months are a good chance to recharge the batteries as well as get round to those jobs postponed from busier times.

Farm machinery maintenance checks are under way and hedges are being cut.

Crops are in good shape. The cereals drilled last suffered from some slug and rook damage but oilseed crops are avoiding any pigeon grazing so far.

See also: Read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

Grain markets are frustrating; contracts have overrun collection deadlines – not a sign of a buoyant marketplace.

Maybe improving oil prices will trigger a reopening of the ethanol plant in Hull and boost feed wheat use across the UK. Fortunately, remaining unsold grain can be parked for now being both cool and dry.

Extra bite

The news China will no longer import and process our plastic waste has triggered a panic in the recycling industry which relied on this export trade.

I am not surprised; it is a filthy, unpopular job on farms too. Disposal costs will doubtlessly now rise significantly and farmers will need to find innovative ways to reduce plastic use.

Defra secretary Michael Gove seems obsessed with improving “natural capital” and providing “public goods” instead of prioritising food production.

He forgets environmental sustainability starts with economic sustainability and I wonder how wildlife biodiversity, or water and soil quality could ever be accurately surveyed on farm. 

Contrary to pledges for softer regulation such assessments would surely be haphazard, expensive and prone to inconsistency.

Will it come to inspectors counting flowers in fields? For those farmers fighting continuing problems with hare coursing and fly-tipping new proposals for widespread public access must also seem galling.

This sounds like cross compliance with extra bite. Does Mr Gove want us to be farmers or gardeners?  

Sausage September   

I have also been following the promotion of “Veganuary” with concern. Celebrities have been rushing to endorse this idea by jumping onto the “detox” bandwagon and the young are being wooed.

Supermarket shelving suggests this dietary choice is gradually becoming mainstream, bad news for those of us growing crops for animal feed.

All UK farmers can do is remind consumers we take environmental and animal welfare matters seriously and leave the medics to emphasise the importance of balanced diets and the risks of dietary disorders linked to vegan choices.

Perhaps we need a counterbalance promotion; who’s up for Sausage September?

David Butler farms just south of Marlborough in Wiltshire in partnership with his parents. He also runs a contracting company and farms about 870ha of combinable crops alongside a herd of 280 dairy cows.