Farm Diary November 12 2008

WET but very much warmer weather as we cope with this depressing hour; it's about time we adopted European time, which would go a long way towards cheering us all up. I hate these dark evenings, and it seems so unnecessary to carry on with this gloomy tradition, when the evidence against is now overwhelming. We have the same number of daylight hours; it's just a matter of choosing at which time of day we would like to have them.

More doom and gloom on the economic front, and everyone is feeling poorer. This is turning into a disaster on the high street as we approach Christmas, where many shops and companies turn over up to 40 per cent of their total for the year, which in itself seems far too high a risk.

The major supermarkets are telling me that they are experiencing a huge percentage of consumers who are 'trading down the value chain'; that is buying food items that are more basic and costing less. Niche products, organic food, and other luxury items are in reverse.

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Food prices are no longer going up, and the trend will be down as we approach Christmas. All suppliers are under huge price pressure as retailers are now in full swing, and the Christmas preparations are more or less complete.

This is going to be the hardest fought Christmas ever seen on the streets, and there are going to be offers galore! Of course people have to eat, and compared to clothing, furnishings and other goods, times may be tough; but at least the tills are still ringing.

Massive interest rate cuts will help, but only if the banks will lend the money. Everything is in limbo, frozen almost, as the country attempts to come to terms with it all. Suddenly Gordon Brown is winning by-elections; it seems anything can happen!

A leading economist told me the other day that having borrowed our way into serious financial trouble we are now going to spend our way out of it, and if everyone overnight, becomes a prudent saver, we will have real meltdown. I can see the logic, but somehow I think economic instinct might get in the way?

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The cows are very lucky indeed; they are untouched by all of this, despite my serious discussions with them about eating less and producing more milk. Cows live for the moment, and have no concept of time, other than the built in clock that tells them that it's feeding time! They don't worry about tomorrow, don't really remember much about yesterday, it's all about how they feel right now. We all run around keeping the 'hotel' nice and clean, with plenty of fresh food available 24 hrs a day. We clean and make the beds twice a day, provide a disinfectant foot-bath every morning, clean the water troughs, and so on. If you were a cow, you might well ask 'Recession? What recession?'

I've decided that there must be a 'tag thief' in the area. We seem to order ear tags for cows on almost a daily basis, which is getting expensive. With the permanent threat of a government inspection, and only 24 hours notice, no time to do much, never mind order new tags, we are struggling to keep all our cows tagged in both ears at all times.

They just go missing, as if they had been stolen in the night. We don't often find any on the ground, so where do they go? Our cows are all freeze-branded and they also have individual electronic tags in their ears for management purposes, and to trigger the recording system in the parlour and the 'drafting-gate' outside. However, this cuts no ice with government; it seems that having the required two identification tags is far more important than actual identification.

The decision by government to set-up a 'TB Eradication Group' is welcome news indeed. It marks a sea change in attitudes, as the word 'eradication' enters the vocabulary of government for the first time. The group will develop a plan to reduce the incidence of bovine TB, moving towards eventual eradication.

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There has been pressure from Brussels on government to get its act together on TB, which has helped us no end in getting something done. Hilary Benn is still making silly statements in order to save face and placate the extremists, but every man and his dog knows that this disease is out of control, and that proper measures need to be put in place.

This is very likely to mean even more stringent measures on farms, but farmers have always said that if government are serious about tackling the disease; we will do our bit.

The NFU and other farming organisations had quite rightly refused to participate in this group earlier in the year, when the Hilary Benn announced that its focus would be limited to cattle controls, but now with eradication of the disease on the agenda, everyone is willing to work with government.

Hilary Benn was grilled by the EFRA Committee last week, and struggled to give proper answers to why despite the extra measures on farm, restricting cattle movement, there has been a dramatic rise in incidence this year. The minister is now under serious pressure from MP's in infected areas who accused him of having 'no policy and no clue' on how to deal with the problem. Farmers have been on his case since he took office, and now he has Brussels on his back too. About time.