FARMER FOCUS: Outwintering’s a challenge

As this is my first Farmer Focus article for 2014 may I first wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year.

I’m anticipating 2014 will be a slightly less frantic than 2013, with no plans for international travel on the horizon. Having said that my diary is already reasonably busy for the first few months travelling the length of the UK talking about my Nuffield experiences to various groups and conferences.

On the farms, one herd is now only a few weeks from the start of calving while the other, not due until the end of February, is still being dried off. This is helping to ease the workload for another month or so. An incredibly mild, although very wet winter, has so far suited the grass grown during the autumn and both farms look to be holding grass cover nicely. Out-wintering the in-calf heifers on kale has proved to be challenging during the wet weather and something we’re unlikely to attempt again. Some dry cows grazing high covers of deferred Italian rye grass on a neighbouring field seem to have fared much better with very little mud in comparison.

I spent a fascinating few days in London in early December in the company of the Sustainable Food Trust. The first two days I spent with over 100 international researchers, scientists, farmers and non-governmental organisations examining the merits of “true cost accounting” and how it could restore balance in our modern food system, culminating on the third day with more than 350 people attending a public conference.

Unsurprisingly, the challenge and severity of the situation only strengthens my own conclusions in my Nuffield scholarship report, that globally we now have an unbelievable situation where the cheapest, most processed and industrially-grown food is actually not cheap at all and is literally costing the earth.

Calculating the often unaccounted additional cost of the various externalities, including the huge social, health and environmental impact costs directly linked to poor diet and intensive food production, it becomes very clear that major cultural change is going to be needed if we’re to avoid serious food supply problems and massively increasing health care costs in the not too distant future.

Robert Craig farms a 160ha all-grass dairy unit in north-east Cumbria. A passionate grassland farmer, Robert aims to maximise profit while ensuring a balanced and enjoyable life. Robert is also current Cumbria NFU chairman

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