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Farming matters: Niall Blair - 'No-one could have predicted the relative prosperity of 2020'

November, and we roll the dice again. The tups are back in with the ewes despite the serious question, will there be a viable market for lamb post-Brexit? I think I asked the same question last year, or maybe it was the year before? It is hard to keep track.

Either way, even the most optimistic of livestock farmers could not have predicted the relative prosperity of 2020. Back in early April as we all ‘locked down’, beef prices tumbled.

 

With sheds full of store cattle the situation was very unnerving. Life was made even more stressful by drought conditions through May and June resulting in very little grass growth. Yet, despite events, prices improved significantly and stock thrived.

 

Nearly all of my lambs have been sold fat - off grass alone, and this years calves are looking fit and ready to wean. We currently have enough money in the bank to just about cover the rent and winter feed costs, things could be a lot worse.

 

Contrast our situation to that of many other industries at present and there is a lot to be thankful for.

 

Remember back at the start of lockdown when the shelves were empty, all of a sudden for a brief moment food became important again. After a winter of listening to the meat industry being dragged over the coals by one self-proclaimed expert after another regarding environmental sustainability and welfare, it was reassuring to see people queuing up outside butchers shops once again, and, if current prices and demand are anything to go by, it is also great to know that the great Veganathon is perhaps not quite as great as it was pre-Coronavirus.


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Sustainable

 

Self-proclaimed experts are one thing, but self-proclaimed ‘sustainable’ farmers are another – I find both equally depressing.

 

I have nothing against seeking to improve the environmental impacts of food production or for improving welfare. These are absolutely something we should all aim to do.

 

What I find difficult to comprehend is the constant need for some to paint modern conventional farming in a negative light. Listening to other farmers decrying modern agriculture as an environmental disaster on various media platforms recently has left me reflecting.

 

In my experience, the last 30 years has seen a huge change in how we manage our land. Hills once covered with sheep are now effectively rewilded, woodland schemes have appeared all over the country and through successive environmental scheme we have seen habitats including hedges, ponds and wetland areas either created or managed more effectively.

 

As for efficient use of resources, well I make no apology that half my cows are now housed. Yes it would be lovely to seem them all on deferred upland grazing or in grazing open woodlands, but I am afraid the weather sometimes beats us.

 

At the start of the year we may have been crying for rain, but now we certainly are not, rainfall over the last couple of months has been record beating and I am afraid for welfare and environmental reasons many cows are now indoors.

 

At this point I leave you with a question. What is a better use of resources, 30 happy cows in a nice dry shed being fed one bale of silage a day, or 10 cows with their backs to the wind and rain also eating one bale of silage a day?

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