Much ado about many things

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Though there’s been TB testing at Rawston this month, James Cossins’ thoughts are fixed firmly on the national picture and finding a way forward

Rolling the fields at Rawston in the late 1960s

As ever with farming, the weather is having the upper hand here at Rawston Farm. The constant rainfall during February has meant that very little field work has been done – especially compared with last year, when February was one of the driest on record.
We have carried out another TB test this month and we are very nearly clear, with just one animal to retest. Yet again fingers are crossed that in 60 days when the animal is retested, we go clear and can start selling our beef cattle at sensible values.

Lose 20% of your income
It won’t have escaped most people’s attention that the NFU had their annual conference in Birmingham in February. After six years as President, Minette Batters retires from the post to be replaced by Tom Bradshaw. Minette has worked relentlessly during this period representing the farming industry to politicians, government institutions, supermarkets and many more. She has been the face of agriculture to the wider public through the difficulties such as Brexit, the COVID pandemic and the fight for British farming in the recent trade deals. I would like to extend my thanks to her for all she has done for our industry.

James Cossins at home on Rawston Farm

It was interesting that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attended the conference – the last time a Prime Minster attended (Gordon Brown) it was also an election year. We have had assurances from the Government that they are fully behind us, but it appears that the current financial incentives are the opposite, with encouragement being given to leave productive land empty, to rewild and not to produce food. Maybe on poor and unproductive land this is understandable, but it should not be encouraged on good food-producing land.
We only produce about 65 per cent of our nation’s food at the moment. Surely we don’t want to cut production further and rely more heavily on imported food?
Often the imported foods have lower standards of production and come from unsustainable sources such as removed rainforests. With the current insecurity in the world, we shouldn’t rely on imported food.

Minette Batters has worked relentlessly for six years, representing the farming industry to politicians, government institutions and supermarkets

I have been asked recently why the English farmers are not out protesting with their tractors as farmers are across Europe. In the UK I believe the last thing we want to do is upset our customers by disrupting their daily activities. Across the channel, the European Union is trying to enforce certain measures which would make farming even more difficult than it already is. The EU want to reduce the amount of inputs that farmers can use to grow crops, meaning that the amount of food they would be able to produce would be dramatically reduced, consequently reducing their income.
Closer to home, in Wales there is a proposal put forward by the Welsh government that ten per cent of farmed land be planted to trees and a further ten per cent be left as set-aside.
Again this would have a dramatic effect on their incomes. The English government has produced a sustainable farming incentive scheme which rewards farmers for carrying out activities that benefit the environment. Farmers can choose from a wide range of options like hedgerow management, not putting fertiliser on grassland, not using insecticides on crops, sowing cover crops and planting unproductive parts of field with wild flowers or food for wild birds. Every farmer has the choice to enter the scheme and consequently be financially rewarded for doing so.

Well done George!
Finally, congratulations to my fellow BV columnist George Hosford, who was announced as the South West regional winner of the Meurig Raymond award at the NFU conference. The prestigious annual award is presented to the member who goes above and beyond as an NFU member. George was specifically recognised for the work he does in educating the public, especially children, on where their food comes from and what farmers are doing for the environment.
The judges said ‘George’s passion for education, the agricultural sector and the environment is second to none. His enthusiasm is infectious. An eternally positive voice, not scared to question and hold to account, he will ask the difficult questions in a constructive manor, holding policy makers to account and working hard to safeguard the future of the farming sector which he so clearly loves.’

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