Opinion: ‘Just in time’ has flaws when supplies are tight

Against all the shocking and horrible news we are seeing each day, lambing is a welcome distraction that allows us to carry on and be busy without having to think too much about what’s going on.

I feel both grateful and slightly guilty that we have work to do and are not cooped up like so many others.

All our suppliers, and indeed everyone we deal with, have adapted to the changing circumstances well and done their best to provide a continuing service. We really appreciate it.

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In the early part of this crisis, we have mostly been affected on a domestic rather than professional level.

Like much of British industry, in recent years I have tended to buy supplies on a “just in time” basis.

This has the benefit of minimising the amount of working capital tied up in stock, reducing obsolescence and decreasing storage requirements. But mainly, I’ve just got used to being able to get everything I want without having to plan ahead.

The flaw in this is that, when supplies are disrupted, you run out of what you need. We didn’t anticipate the first wave of panic buying and so our supply of loo rolls ran critically low. 

But I didn’t fancy queuing for two hours before the supermarkets opened on the off chance of a delivery.

So, I diligently researched contingency measures suitable for our plumbing (forget kitchen roll or paper napkins).

None of it sounded great and it was too early in the season for dock leaves.

Then a neighbour told us to try our local agricultural merchant. A phone call later and two packs of four had been added to our order of Big Boy beef nuts (for the cattle, not the senior partner).

It was described as “not luxury” and even the manufacturer’s own website seems to think its product’s chief attributes are “uniform lengths” and “consistent quality”. But needs must.

In the event, it was perfectly adequate. I’ve used much worse – particularly during the “great loo roll panic” of the 1970s.

For some reason, our regular brand was unobtainable, but my mother managed to source a tray of loo rolls from West Cumberland Farmers, which she brought home in triumph to see us through.

It turned out to be very, very rough. The pack was abandoned as soon as normal supplies were restored. It was still there when we moved house a few years later.

So, a big thank you to Robson & Cowan. When they say they have everything you need for lambing, they mean it.

No one knows what will happen after the pandemic is under control, but our first priority must be to just get through it and then deal with the aftermath.

I think the best strategy is to keep in touch with neighbours, friends and family, and to try to remain positive until such time as circumstances change.

We are thinking about what we would like to do when this is all over. Within the Elder household, there seem to be three main priorities: haircuts, meeting up with people, and a holiday. 

This is almost identical to the annual “what I’d like to do when lambing is over” list, except that this time haircuts are top, despite the availability of scissors, a pudding basin and a clipping machine.

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