The crisis in the dairy industry has taken the BBC news headline today and it may encourage people to really start thinking about where their food comes, not just milk, and how vulnerable we are as farmers to market forces. What other industry finds itself selling a product for less than it costs to produce and be able to stay in business.
In December the number of dairy farmers in Britain dropped to below 10,000, a 50%(!!!) fall since 2001.
There are always people out there who have a perception that farmers are miserable,complaining curmudgeons, well maybe they too would complain if they felt that they were working for nothing and were unable to do anything about it.
The general public's view of farming & farmers is confused I think.
On the one hand there is the bucolic rose-tinted idea of the merry peasant tilling his ground and tending his animals and on the other there is the greedy, factory farmer keeping livestock in huge sheds & despoiling the land. Both views are extreme nonsense.
The reality is that farming covers a wide spectrum of methods, lifestyles and aspirations. We all work hard in often very difficult and challenging conditions & using methods that are often misunderstood by the consumer but at the end of the day we are all producing that most basic of human requirements, food.
Without farmers and educators (those who pass on knowledge, not just peddlers of information)there is nothing.
A cold sparkling silver morning with the blackbirds and robins trilling away merrily in th hedgerows. The dogs love this weather, as do I, and whilst I do not leap and prance around with the frost in my toes like them, I do enjoy the briskness it brings to our daily walks.
Further to my last post, we attended the First Milk meeting and listened to Sir Jim Paice explaining the current dire situation regarding the milk price.
In simple terms there is simply too much milk on the world market and this affects the whole system from the farmers onwards. It is a very complicated business and I can't begin to try to explain it as I barely understand it myself but it has meant that the price to farmers has dropped dramatically. First Milk has deferred its payments to the farmers by two weeks and this deferrment is to continue until August. Some farms are going to really struggle...some 60 farms left the industry in December alone.
I take back my comment in the last post about the chairman & board not having their salaries deferred as Sir Jim did tell us that they had in fact deferred them at some point last year (though possiblynot with the same impact on their lives as it is having with the people who actually milk cows).
The whole thing will rumble on for some considerable time yet, but the general atmosphere at the meeting which was attended by anything up to 200 farmers, was reasonably amiable though many are very worried. We were presented with facts & figures and there was no trying to hide behind statistics & jargon.
We have had a very busy weekend with some of Younger Son's friends, their labradors & girlfriends arriving on Friday for a weekend's shooting. All very jolly. The two visiting dogs are the offspring of my lab Hattie and siblings of Younger Son's lab Jess. It was interesting to see family likenesses so strongly apparent. They are all very good-looking dogs and very well trained and therefore much admired when out in the field.
We're half way through January and we've had the first snowfall. Not a great deal but enough to transform the landscape into something magical. Whether there will be any more we'll have to wait and see. I do rather hope there will be...I know it makes a lot of work for us all but it is such fun.
As some of you may be aware there has been much coverage in the media about the price of milk; that it is cheaper than bottled water, that many farmers are being paid less than the cost of production. The company that has been in the firing line this week is First Milk, the company that we have a contract with. They have made the decision to defer payments to we producers until the end of the month instead of paying us in the middle of the month, and have dropped the price by 2 pence per litre. This has been done to improve their cash flow problems.
The big question for us is will the electricity company, the phone company, the local petrol station be willing to accept deferred payment from us as a result? Somehow I think not.
Also, is the chairman of First Milk having his huge salary deferred? Again, I think not!
Anway, we have been summoned to a meeting tomorrow with the chairman to 'discuss the full details of last week's announcement'. I guess it may be a rather tense gathering.
Milk industry politics have been volatile for long time and it seems that they are continueing to be so. It is to be hoped that some significant changes can come about with regard to the price paid to the farmers and the price of milk for the consumer. With fewer than 10,000 dairy farms in the UK and more leaving the industry something has to be done.
Christmas morning and I was still asleep although the Farmer & Elder Son were out doing the milking & feeding calves when suddenly I became aware of running feet, muffled shouting and doors opening & shutting noisily. No, it was not Father Christmas rushing to get his round finished before the sun rose, it was a bovine obstetric emergency. Our last cow had calved during the night but when the Farmer checked on her at about 6.30 this morning he found she had managed to have a complete prolapse of her uterus. An unpleasant sight to say the least but a situation that requires immediate attention. Younger Son & I both got up speedily and went out to the shed to find the Farmer & Elder Son waiting for the vet. The poor cow looked very uncomfortable and there was nothing any of us could do. In the event our wonderful vet arrived and gave the cow an epidural and then it took three men to shove the uterus back into the cow while another one held her head. Two hours later she is standing and looking to make a good recovery, thank goodness. Sadly, the calf was dead.
The uterus is a huge organ and if it is exposed for too long can lead to significant heat loss for the cow, indeed the steam coming of it as we stood was amazing, so it is important that it is replaced as quickly as possible. It is so large that it does take a team of people to push it back. A large plastic sheet is placed under the organ to enable it to be lifted and supported whilst being forced back in place. The prognosis after such an event is usually good and the cow can on to have subsequent calves without any increased risk of such a thing happening again
I, for the second year running am not having to cook Christmas dinner as we are going over to Elder Son's cottage with all the family. The two small grand-children are in the traditional state of hysterical over-excitement, tears before breakfast and the day is already too much for them. Why do we do this ? It's madness...too much hyped-up anticipation & too many presents(grumpy Granny moment again!) yet there will be lovely moments when you suddenly realise that Christmas is fun. Yesterday, Christmas Eve was fun...a continual stream of cheerful people calling and sitting in the kitchen over coffee and mince pies. I think I must have greeted over a dozen different lots of friends who came to say Merry Christmas and some of whom called to pick up their turkeys as well.
The Farmer & the Sons spent last weekend killing, plucking & dressing turkeys. We reared only 10 this year so it was not too onerous.
Now I am off to make bread sauce and trifles and to check on the Christmas pudding steaming away on the Rayburn...my contributions to the meal.
Last evening the Farmer & I attended a meeting in Narberth arranged by Simon Hart MP to discuss the state of the dairy industry with Stephen Crabb, the Minister of State for Wales, Neil Parrish MP, chairman of the all-party group on the dairy industry & Andy Richardson, chairman of the review into Wales's dairy industry. About a 100 dairy farmers from Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion & Pembrokeshire attended.
With the price of milk falling all the time it is felt that politicians, retailers, milk buyers and producers need to work out a system by which there is a fair price for all, but more particularly for the producers. Some dairy farms are selling milk for less than their production costs and this is often due to the contracts that they are tied into. The supermarkets are also greatly at fault when they use milk as a loss leader eg. Morrisons selling 2 litres (3.5 pints) for 84p. It is outrageous. Consumers have become used to being able to buy milk at a very low price and for many producers there is almost no option but to leave the industry if prices continue to drop, particularly for smaller family farms with little capital to invest in expansion.
We are a small family dairy farm; we farm just over 200 acres and milk 50 cows. As organic producers we get a slightly higher price than conventional farms for our milk but the organic sector is affected by price drops and current politics in the milk industry the same as all dairy farmers.
In England and Wales there are now just under 10,000 dairy farms(Farmers Guardian this week) which is a drop of 20,000 in 20 years. In Scotland there are only 900 dairy farms.
In Wales dairy is one of the largest farming sectors, about 34% of agricultural production by value, twice as high as the rest of the UK.
There was lot of comment during the meeting on how the supermarkets and the consumers have no respect for food. There is so little understanding of how food is produced and the hard work that goes into putting a pint of milk on the supermarket shelf. Education is the key, of course. Schools should be teaching food...bring back home economics and domestic science into the curriculum, teaching students what food is, how it is produced and how to cook well.
The politicians are aware of how the dairy industry is enduring this time of low prices and it will be interesting to see what they can do improve the situation.
With general election coming up in just over 5 months time will the present government have any time to make any real changes?
Another issue that I have become aware of lately is the threat to postal services for those of us in rural areas as has been expressed by the FUW , the Farmer's Union of Wales.
The FUW says that there are concerns that changes to the postal sector with adversely affect Wales' rural communities.
Wales has about 42,000 agricultural holdings of which 20,000 are said to be significant. As farmers we are subject ot strict legal requirements covering animal welfare, identification, movements, feed & food production and land management. Apparently the documentation relating to these legislative requirements results in approximately 3,000 pages of information a year that has to come to the farm. Much of the notifications require responses with strict deadlines and major financial penalties if these deadlines are not met. Paper correspondence is still important even though much of the paperchase has gone online (and has become more complicated and inefficient as a result) and many areas of Wales have limited broadband coverage. The maintenance of postal deliveries six days a week is vitally important...to bring us our 3,000 pieces of paper telling us what we can and cannot do on the farm, or else!
Misty winter mornings are some of my favourite parts of the year & even more so when combined with frost. Today is such a morning. The mist has now lifted and we are enjoying blue skies and the silver glitter on the roofs is disappearing rapidly in the sunshine.
It is the beginning of December and the phrase 'Christmas is coming' has a somewhat threatening tone as the Christmas madness begins on the media and in the shops. As far as I'm concerned Christmas shouldn't really begin until the 24th (though the various small preparations in the week before are enjoyable) but my family see that as curmudgeonly and too Scrooge-like. It is at this time of year that I am more than usually glad we do not have television...the occasional glimpse of the hysterical madness especially on the children's tv is appalling...I sound like a grumpy Granny but what I mean is just keep the whole thing in perspective and don't indulge every wish of already over-indulged children. The small domestic, home-made aspects of Christmas are the most enjoyable not the brash, superficial tinsel of media driven excess. Gosh that sounds so priggish!! Actually, I love Christmas and every family has its own way of celebrating, so each to their own.
On the farming front we have had lot of calves born lately so there is a lot of milk being produced which is good, I think we are sending more milk than we have ever done. The milk tanker has just arrived and the driver has assured us that he will be coming on Christmas Day though maybe a little earlier than usual so that he can home for his Christmas lunch. Like we farmers many of the ancillary workers in the agricultural industry do not get a day off.
All the cattle are in and so the first half of each morning is spent feeding and bedding down. Once that is all done the Farmer & the Sons get on with good weather jobs such as hedge-trimming, and logging to get in the supply of firewood for the next couple years.
Most of the cattle are in for the winter though a few still graze in the somewhat soggy fields. Those that are in are fed silage each day and are bedded down with fresh straw. Feed barriers are the best way of feeding anumber of cattle at a time, each beast goes to a section and eats what it needs as as when it chooses. The smell of good silage and warm cattle is very evocative of winter on the farm
For some reason the Farmers's shadow, his working collie Mollie is being allowed into the kitchen these days and Dottie the terrier is somewhat miffed to find that Mollie can fit into her bed so is resigned to sharing though it is a tight fit.
Talking of dogs we lost our old labrador Poppy a couple of weeks ago. She was twelve and was suffering from liver failure. She had been a superb gun-dog and she & Younger Son whose dog she was, learnt everything together about beating and retrieving game. She was also a wonderful companion and the greediest dog imaginable which is quite something in the world of labradors!...her other name was Pig-dog! She was also Dottie the terrier's sofa, here they are in the summer both very comfortable in the sunshine.
A beautiful 35 minute film following the River Teifi from the air with a sound track of Welsh folk music, poetry & narrative made by the Teifi Valley Tourism Association, an independent group of owners of holiday accommodation, artists & craftspeople living in the Teifi Valley. To order a copy go to www.teifivalleyholidays.co.uk
Full-time farmers-wife, cook, laundress, gardener, meeter-&-greeter, mobile gate, answerphone service & bibliophile.
Have lived for over 25 years on a 140 acre organic dairy farm in the Welsh hills, with fiddle-playing farmer husband and two sons.
We host farm walks for schools and any other interested parties and have farm open days and are passionate about educating people on where their food comes from and the importance of the countryside.
We also have a sweet holiday cottage with roses round the door available throughout the year for the perfect country retreat.
Contact for further details;
Telephone; 01559 370341
Sleeps 4 Wood-burning stove Welcome basketof goodies Logs, electricity, bedlinen & towels included in price Internet access Natural spring water Beautiful views Only 30 minutes from beaches One well behaved dog welcome (£20 per week) Short Breaks available- 3 nights £170
A delightful gypsy wagon on an organic farm in West Wales.
Cabin with kitchen, shower-room & wood-burning stove.
Camping with a difference. http://www.oldoakgypsywagon.co.uk/
As Seen on TV
Penyrallt has been used as a film location on a number occasions for feature films & television productions. 1993Tan ar y Comin / A Christmas ReunionStarring James Coburn & Edward Woodward Directed by David Hemmings & Carol Byrne-Jones. Saban / Y Wennol (Wales) 1996-1999Yr Palmant Aur A Welsh language period drama. Opus TV / S4C (Wales)
1999A Two Way JourneySolo Spot Produciones. (Spain) 2007Y Ty Cymraeg A Welsh language programme about Welsh architecture presented by Dr Greg Stevenson. S4C Cwpwrdd DilladA Welsh language programme about Welsh fashion design. The designs of Adam Marc James were photographed at Penyrallt. S4C
2011Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience; Series 2 - FarmerStand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert trys his hand at farming. BBC One Wales/Presentable TV BBC Two. 2012 Mud MenSeries 3Episode; Blackwall Johnnie Vaughan& Steve Brooker