BLUETONGUE is a real worry for me. I know little about it other than if it arrives on my farm, a proportion of my animals are going to be very ill for a period of time.

What effect will that have on the animal? The business? The staff? Milk yield? Will the cows recover? Will they have immunity thereafter? Will I be in danger of prosecution (welfare) in the event of a bad outbreak? And so on.

I am certain that it is a real threat to my business, and again, will be the last straw for many dairy farmers who have just about had enough as it is. Any dairy farmer on good land has to be tempted by the plough these days, and as I travel the country, I see grassland ploughed up everywhere. With wheat at record prices, stock farming with all the problems is looking very second rate indeed.

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Animal welfare exercises my mind a great deal these days, with disease and restrictions raging in parts of the country; scathing attacks from welfare groups such as 'Animal Aid' on dairy farming recently, and the role of the market in welfare.

Is animal welfare a public good '“ or a private good? As farmers we always operated to the 'Duty of Care' act of 1968, and in the last few years to a higher standard, the Farm Animal Welfare Council 'Five freedoms' code. Almost all farmers are Farm Assured under the 'Red Tractor' scheme, which sets higher bench-marks and many more are operating to an even higher welfare requirement under retail schemes (such as Waitrose for all meat and milk).

I would therefore make the point that animal welfare in the UK is at least the equal of any other country, and better than most.

However, with very tight margins for many years, infrastructure on dairy farms is in need of major investment, and lack of capital expenditure can impinge on welfare; but in fact good welfare does not always cost money, and often contributes to greater returns.

For full feature see West Sussex Gazette October 3