I don’t know what it is about writing these articles, but it seems to make time fly at an even greater rate than usual.
Four weeks ago we were hoping for some better growing conditions and I’m glad to report the countryside is looking far healthier than it was back then, with silage crops now looking like they have bulked up nicely.
However, they still may be a fair bit short of last year.
We are about halfway through shearing and I can’t remember sheep as good to clip. Ewes are fit and lambs have done well. It seems they have enjoyed the grass growing to them, rather than it getting away in front.
We’ve also been fencing for our new round of Countryside Stewardship. The total area to be fenced off isn’t huge, but the length of fencing is as we weave up riversides and bank edges.
Looking to the future, Defra has produced the Environmental Land Management (ELM) policy discussion document, which is available on the GOV.UK website, and is looking for feedback from farmers.
This is a must read for anyone who currently claims the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) as it details what Defra has in mind after BPS is withdrawn.
ELM is complex. There is a team of smart people at Defra who are dedicated to its design and it seems every idea regarding farming and the environment they have ever had has been thrown into the mix.
The key will surely be to boil this down to something every farmer can access so the agriculture budget is delivered to the right places.
There is a risk this all becomes so complex and off-putting that, like we have seen with Countryside Stewardship, uptake will be low among farmers and cashflow into the countryside will shrink.
Without a decent level of support we will see a significant contraction of traditional family farming and an increase in intensive methods, backed by an economies of scale approach, something Defra says it wants to avoid.
The three-tiers approach is somewhat vague at the moment, with the first two tiers seemingly targeted at farmers and land managers, and the third at large-scale landscape change.
This will no doubt appeal to non-governmental organisations and rewilding groups which, to be fair, have the environment at heart but whose priorities are at odds with the farming community.
These organisations, which I have previously described as lacking the practical land skills that are gained from a life on-farm, would therefore see the cost of these landscape changes become over inflated as work is contracted out and swallowed up in administration.
I am assured the budget won’t be increasing to accommodate these changes and so the dilution continues.
BPS, for all its flaws, was simple and easy to deliver and achieved the Common Agricultural Policy’s original objectives of making cheap and plentiful food, which is national security at its most basic level.
It’s our job to make sure that point isn’t missed.