Farmer’s View: Reflections from a Southern Summer Trip


It’s been several months since this column suggested that Liz Truss would follow Boris Johnston in issue 10 – I’m not a doctor, but I seem to have lucked out with my prediction again!

One thing that should be different with our new Prime Minister is that she will tell the truth (that is, can a politician do such a thing?). We may not like everything she tells the country because there is definitely pain ahead.

I don’t envy her work right now, with the Conservative Party in disarray and that’s before she started talking about the state of the country. She reminds me a little of Margaret Thatcher who, being the daughter of a grocer, did not like farmers.

Liz was not popular during her short time as Minister of Agriculture in the Cameron government. Fortunately, the situation is very different this time around, with food shortages now a virtual certainty. She will need all the help she can get from farmers so that supermarket shelves are not empty.

In my lifetime, there have only been two Prime Ministers who have shown respect for food producers – Jim Callaghan and John Major. Maybe Liz Truss will be the third!

Agriculture being a devolved issue, in Scotland we should not be so affected by decisions at Westminster. Stop dreaming!

A former farmer-friendly rural affairs CabSec, Fergus Ewing’s replacement doesn’t seem to know if she’s coming or going, with officials telling her one thing, while the NFUS – if she’s worth it – telling her the opposite!

In reality, she is sitting on top of a barbed wire fence and no matter which way she falls, she is going to be slaughtered – if not by the current NFUS President, certainly by several of the previous Presidents! This puts her between a rock and a hard place.

Right after writing my previous column, we took a trip down south. It’s been at least 60 years since I started driving south of the border and there was no highway back then. The first time was just after passing my driving test and I went to visit my namesake, who was a vet in Devon.

My Aunt Betty insisted that I bring my kilt, but no reason was given. It turned out that she was having a party at the church and wanted to be accompanied by her nephew in a kilt. I can’t print the result, but it had something to do with being a real Scotsman!

Our last trip took us to Lincolnshire to visit a cattle rancher friend for a few days. Fortunately, it was at the end of the heat wave, with temperatures dropping to an average of 20°. The drought, I would say, was not as bad as it was in 1976.

From Scotch Corner you could see the grass starting to suffer, with only the rare green field. The next crop that showed signs of heat stress was potato, with the death of shaws, followed by sugar beet.

The harvest was almost complete except for the beans, with nice straw everywhere. Our friend had hauled 14,000 of his 20,000 Hesston big bales in excellent condition, but only needed a few more days to complete the job – this was his first harvest.

An interesting drive took us from Boston, east of Skegness, where we saw excellent land for growing vegetables, much of it being harvested or the next crop being planted. We were told that they were all struggling due to lack of manpower.

The original motivation for this trip was my wife’s invitation to Ladies Day, York Races, from our longtime Holstein friends near York. None of us know much about horse racing, but it was a great day of fun. Having always been a fan of the fairer sex… and a fashion show couldn’t have done better. It was a distraction from the horses, so unsurprisingly, we had no winners!

To a more serious thought, of this visit to the south. Yes, they had a very dry year, but looking back over the last 60 years, traveling to England, what changed more than anything else was a huge increase in the number of trees and hedgerows, all of which need plenty of water to survive.

Talking to a tree specialist, I learned that a tree draws moisture from the ground all the time, especially when it is young. This raises the question: to what extent are trees responsible for the current water shortage in southern counties?

To bring this issue closer to home, 40 years ago the Forestry Commission gave us 50 trees, free of charge, which sons John and Jesme planted in what was a marshy corner of a field with a ditch through it.

These trees, some willows, are now very tall and the swampy ground is very dry and the ditch no longer carries water all year round. On the other side of the farm there is a sandstone quarry, the stone of which was quarried in the 1800s to build many houses in this area.

The 70 acres were filled with the ashes of Glasgow during and after the First World War. These ashes were sifted and removed during the 1950s and 1960s, leaving 70 acres of wet marshland after the ashes were extracted. The result was a mass of self-seeding trees, now 20 to 30 feet tall.

You can walk, with difficulty due to the density of the trees, without boots and the ditch, which had a good flow of water, is now dry. The question I ask is: if we keep planting trees in Scotland, where will the water come from in the future?

We attended a few local one day shows. Unfortunately, there weren’t more than a handful of spectators around the ring to judge the cattle.

One of them was Craigie, with just one Ayrshire entry and a dozen Holsteins. As is normal, it’s easy to judge outside the ring, so the six breed stalwarts placed the cattle in front of the young judge.

As for the senior cow class, we worthies placed them in reverse order of the judge, with the same thing happening at the championship.

It was unusual, but when the same three Holsteins were presented before another interbreed judge, plus an Ayrshire, this time they were placed in reverse order of the breed judge, much to the delight of ringside !

The future of local shows is often mentioned, especially by livestock specialists. Due to fewer farms, with fewer people working there, resulting in a lack of time to stop and present stock, much higher costs, lower margins, and another generation with different priorities – the real question is whether there will be any left in 10 years. time?

My last report for rainfall last month was 2.5 inches in August, bringing this year’s total to 19.5 inches – half an inch higher than last year at this point.

Energy costs. While Scotland has wind turbines almost everywhere, solar panels coming up at a rapid pace, hydroelectric power stations and oil and gas in the North Sea, why are we running out of power? Is this SNP government, with its unelected Greens, out to run our country?

There is no doubt that the vast majority of politicians would be bankrupt in six months, if you put them in business, especially in agriculture. Usually cream comes out on top in agricultural terms – right now in the political world there doesn’t seem to be a lot of cream!

It’s mid-September, and I suspect by the time you read this issue of The SF, the grain harvest will be nearly complete, with tatties being the only major crop yet to be stockpiled.

There is no doubt that much of Scotland has had what could be described as an almost perfect year, particularly the western half, for growing grass in abundance. The silage pits are full, with excellent products for feeding this winter.

Grassland cattle did well with both cattle and sheep enjoying near perfect conditions. The main challenge facing the livestock industry is the escalating costs for hogs, poultry, dairy, beef and other housed livestock.

Electricity and gas will need to be kept to a minimum and this will also apply to potato storage. If there is an agricultural margin left this winter, it will be small!

What will the future of farming in Scotland look like in these times of super inflation we are facing? Will it be a continuation of growing or exiting? I feel like it will be a bit of both, as it has been my whole life as a farmer.

There will always be those who have the courage to invest with the help of their banker and be at the age when another generation will want to follow in their footsteps. What won’t change is that farmers will always be asset-rich and cash-poor, and second, the land will never increase.

The truth is that it is in constant decline, which makes one wonder where the food will come from to feed the ever growing world population?

Finally, I cannot go this weekend without commenting on the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – such a great ambassador for our country. Like many people in my age group, she has been a part of our lives since we live.

I remember the television set up in the living room to allow the whole household to view the momentous occasion of his coronation. My closest encounter with this dear lady was at the Glasgow Dairy Show in the Kelvin Hall when she descended the Ayrshire cattle lines with the late Duke of Edinburgh and told my father about his cows.

I am proud to say that I am a staunch monarchist and supporter of royalty. I had the privilege of dining with his daughter, Princess Anne, at Gleneagles, when her main topic of conversation was agriculture. Like her mother, she is an excellent conversationalist and lover of the countryside.


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