At the end of March we welcomed a new young farmer to the team – baby George. I’ve had all the jokes about “keeping in the block’” as he managed to arrive at our busiest time of the year, just past the peak of calving season.
I explained to my husband that statutory maternity leave is 39 weeks, but given the timing, this clearly wasn’t an option.
I was in the milking parlour the day before he was born, and helping to feed calves the day we came home. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well the baby has fitted into farm life. He has already attended discussion groups, AHDB events and markets.
I’ve also discovered that the rhythmic sound of the vacuum pump is a highly effective way to send him to sleep. I’m also getting more sleep than ever before, due to no longer having to get up at 4.30am for milking.
Becoming parents at a time when things are looking pretty gloomy in our sector has given us renewed cause to think about the future. If, in 20 years or so, George decides to follow us into farming, what opportunities and challenges will he face?
I thought I’d share with you some of my hopes.
1. The UK will retain its world-class reputation for producing the highest-quality food. We will be trading with a wider range of international markets, selling more added-value products and generating better returns for farmers.
2. Supermarkets will no longer sell commodities like milk at knockdown prices in a bid to win footfall. The price charged at the till will reflect the true value of the product and a fair margin will be passed back to the producer.
3. The public will have a stronger connection with farmers and “farm to fork” eating will be the norm. British food self-sufficiency will be back up to nearly 90% as it was in the 1990s and agriculture will be on the secondary school curriculum.
4. The Basic Payment Scheme and other subsidies will have been abolished, creating a level playing field and forcing all farms to become sustainable, profitable businesses in their own right.
5. The amount of red tape afflicting farmers will have been drastically reduced. We will no longer be professional form fillers and will have the freedom to get on with the job we love.
6. There will be more established pathways into farming for new entrants. As traditional tenancies phase out, they will be replaced with a range of options including joint ventures, contract farming and share farming type agreements, making the industry more accessible to a wider range of people.
7. The blight of bovine TB will have been eradicated thanks to a strategic culling plan across all affected areas, coupled with rigorous, yet practical, testing rules.
8. Farmers will no longer be among the professions most likely to commit suicide. The stigma surrounding mental health will have reduced, more people will talk about any problems and more help will be available on the NHS for those who need support.
9. The UK will still be a world leader in agricultural technology, driving increased efficiencies and productivity. We will get more time off, if robots haven’t replaced us completely.
10. Young Farmers Clubs will still be thriving, and George will get to experience the Blackpool AGM. I may live to regret this one…
Of course, he might decide not to go into agriculture at all, and that will be fine. But all of the goals above are achievable, many of them in the near future. There is plenty to be optimistic about, and I think farming can offer a rewarding and profitable pathway for the next generation.
Liz Haines and her husband Nick milk 320 spring-calving cows in a contract farming arrangement in north Shropshire