Legislation gets in the way of farming

Four former Farmer Focus writers have returned for a one-off appearance to give us an update about how things are going on farm, here Murray Garrett explains what has been happening on his farm since 2009.

Being that time of year when old acquaintances catch up and send out their annual report here’s mine:

Things have changed for the wetter since I last wrote. We broke our 2007 record for first-cut silage by one day this year to finish on 12 August – beat that if you can.

My soil protection review reads like a Louisiana swamp guidebook and I am actively obtaining quotes for a hovercraft.

EU bureaucracy continues apace. Following EBLEX advice we got last year’s fattening bulls growing like mad – unfortunately slaughter had to be delayed since both our local abattoirs refused to take cattle under 12 months of age. It seems a previously ignored and apparently benign ruling on beef labelling belatedly enforced by the Rural Payments Agency meant any “beef” under 12 months of age must be clearly labelled as such and identifiable throughout the food chain. For the few barley bulls that this affects, many abattoirs are understandably not prepared to set up a separate designated kill line. Luckily I was informed before my cattle left the farm. A neighbour was not so lucky and had to pay the transport for a wasted journey. Interestingly neither EBLEX, the NFU nor the National Beef Association were aware of this legislatory development at the time.

How many other Brussels surprises are out there waiting to be discovered, I wonder? I’m sorely tempted to join UKIP, but following Rotherham Council’s ban on members fostering children, I wonder how long before such affiliation would also preclude one from claiming the SFP?

As you can tell, age has not dented my cynicism. Last autumn we went down with TB for the first time. After going clear during the “summer” we have just been shut down again with two inconclusives. Fearing such a situation might occur and keen to safeguard our two bulls for the spring sales, I contacted Animal Health in advance of our test to renew the licensing of an isolation unit on the holding. “We can only approve an isolation unit once you have gone down with TB,” it informed me “not on a premises without restriction” – clearly rather unhelpful and about as useful as the recent DEFRA consultation on the disease that I attended in Exeter.

Its agenda was all about saving money – it is not rocket science chaps, look in your history books and let us do what worked before – healthy cows, healthy wildlife and an annual saving of millions. On the positive side, my nine-year-old daughter Jessica has revealed a previously hidden talent as a shepherdess. Pleading with her dad for some “proper sheep” that she could show, we purchased a small flock of Whiteface Dartmoors in 2010. Okehampton Show 2011, and her first ever outing saw her take second prize in the young handler class and this year she took the breed championship at Totnes with a gimmer.

One onlooker was heard to remark that Jessica was the first sheep exhibitor she had ever seen compete with colour varnished nails.

Murray Garrett farms 137ha at Waytown Farm, Devon. He runs 100 spring calving pedigree South Devon cows, commercial sheep and a flock of Whiteface Dartmoors.

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