Agriculture

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Ben@Forest
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Re: Agriculture

Postby Ben@Forest » 27 Jun 2020, 8:24am

pete75 wrote:There's this Longwool alongside the so called water railway cycle route between Boston and Lincoln. Show's the versatility of the breed - what other produces steel wool?

Image


I think it signifies the enslaved English serfs who were forced into this cruel practice of wool production. Or maybe the enslaved sheep who were forced into this etc....

Either way the woolsack should be pulled down, the Woolpack pub in Emmerdale renamed The Organic Alfalfa and a petition raised to boycott Wooler. :wink:

thirdcrank
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Re: Agriculture

Postby thirdcrank » 27 Jun 2020, 10:00am

I get the impression from admittedly limited sources, that a lot of sheep farming may stop almost immediately if there's an interruption to subsidies and if so, it would not restart, even after a short break.

AIUI, a lot of farms in the typically hillier areas where sheep are typically found are on the margins of profitability and only kept in business by subsidy. The people involved cannot mark time in an economic activity which needs the confidence to invest on long lead times: eg it's no good starting the annual breeding process if the price of lamb will be zilch when your lambs are born. Beyond that, once a flock is disposed of, starting again is not feasible because the continuity has gone. I'm not talking about turning sheep out into a nice flat field that could be used to grow almost anything, but remote hilly land, which will soon be choked with brambles and bracken without grazing sheep.

Also, a lot of farmhouses in these picturesque areas make excellent second homes / holiday lets.

Ben@Forest
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Re: Agriculture

Postby Ben@Forest » 27 Jun 2020, 10:46am

thirdcrank wrote:I get the impression from admittedly limited sources, that a lot of sheep farming may stop almost immediately if there's an interruption to subsidies and if so, it would not restart, even after a short break.

AIUI, a lot of farms in the typically hillier areas where sheep are typically found are on the margins of profitability and only kept in business by subsidy. The people involved cannot mark time in an economic activity which needs the confidence to invest on long lead times: eg it's no good starting the annual breeding process if the price of lamb will be zilch when your lambs are born. Beyond that, once a flock is disposed of, starting again is not feasible because the continuity has gone. I'm not talking about turning sheep out into a nice flat field that could be used to grow almost anything, but remote hilly land, which will soon be choked with brambles and bracken without grazing sheep.

Also, a lot of farmhouses in these picturesque areas make excellent second homes / holiday lets.


None of the reasons above, at least one of which, the interruption of subsidies, is highly unlikely, is as important as the age of farmers and the lack of their family's or incomer's desire to take the practice on. That will be a more likely decline in hill farming in the immediate future.

mikeymo
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Re: Agriculture

Postby mikeymo » 27 Jun 2020, 12:30pm

Ben@Forest wrote:
thirdcrank wrote:None of the reasons above, at least one of which, the interruption of subsidies, is highly unlikely, is as important as the age of farmers and the lack of their family's or incomer's desire to take the practice on.


I remember mum saying that she was watching dad and the labourers getting the hay in, lugging bales of hay on to the back of a trailer, and thinking to herself - "this isn't something for a 45 year old man to be doing". Presumably both mum and dad recognised how hard their life would be, and harder as they aged, farming in the Scottish highlands. They weren't owners, or even tenants (it says "farm manager" under occupation of father on my birth certificate), so they got out.
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thirdcrank
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Re: Agriculture

Postby thirdcrank » 27 Jun 2020, 2:53pm

I can understand that anybody only scratching an existence would get out if they could and picking a different career in youth may be the easiest time to do it, but that's going to lead to a gradual decline. Even if agricultural subsidies continued at exactly the same overall level in future, speaking as a casual observer, I'd have no confidence that the pattern of distribution would be the same. I also believe that anybody on the margins will be much less able to cope with any uncertainty about what will happen.

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Paulatic
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Re: Agriculture

Postby Paulatic » 27 Jun 2020, 8:26pm

Cycling back home through Skye last year I’d a queue of vehicles behind me and pulled into a lay-by to let them by. Pick up and farmer in the lay-by fixing a fence so we got chatting.
He pointed out 6 vast hill ranges where until recently had all carried sheep all the farmers were older than him, he was 65, and had stopped and none had had family who wanted to carry on. His own son wasn’t interested and he felt once Brexit hits that will be the end for him also.
It’s not only the uncertain future support but also the impending loss of the export market. The last 20 years a lot of our hill lambs have been exported. The small ones to Italy, larger good quality lambs to Germany and a lot to France if they are feeling cooperative. The French flock numbers have increased rapidly in recent years.
If these lambs aren’t exported then it means there are too many store lambs on the market in the autumn and prices collapse. A lot of hill farms can’t keep them beyond October and have to sell.
It will be interesting to see what, type if any, support will be forthcoming after Brexit. What would be best I really don’t know. The marketing boards and guaranteed prices we had when I first started seemed effective and simpler but I don’t know if that’s because I was young then. :) Looking back over the years every scheme has been open to fraud and abused by the astute. Many is the time I’ve said I could write a book on the subject. I’d of lost my job if I had. :lol:
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Ben@Forest
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Re: Agriculture

Postby Ben@Forest » 28 Jun 2020, 8:56am

thirdcrank wrote:I can understand that anybody only scratching an existence would get out if they could and picking a different career in youth may be the easiest time to do it, but that's going to lead to a gradual decline.


Maybe quicker than you think. The average age of a UK farmer is 59. I meet a lot of hill farmers who are a good bit older than that.

Cyril Haearn
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Re: Agriculture

Postby Cyril Haearn » 28 Jun 2020, 9:05am

Average, mean, median, mode? :wink: Hill farming has been in 'trouble' for decades. It shall continue somehow
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Ben@Forest
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Re: Agriculture

Postby Ben@Forest » 28 Jun 2020, 9:28am

Cyril Haearn wrote:Average, mean, median, mode? :wink: Hill farming has been in 'trouble' for decades. It shall continue somehow


That was average (so presumably mean) as reported by the BBC. But a very quick google also shows reports of a median age of 60 and 4 in 10 being over 65.

Of course what's a farmer? You can be the 65 year old owner of 500 ha of arable and pay 35 year old contractors who own no farming land to do the majority of the work. Statistics are always questionable.

But hill farming livestock doesn't really operate that way, it's largely tenanted and it needs full-time husbandry.

thirdcrank
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Re: Agriculture

Postby thirdcrank » 28 Jun 2020, 10:02am

I was thinking about almost immediately ie a long-term trend: ageing personnel; medium-term trend: doubts over future of export markets; trigger event: interrupted subsidy régime. All being variations of "no obvious future."

The final straw gave the camel the hump.

FWIW, I'm not personally bothered. Just limited by lockdown and passing some of the time on here. I do feel enormous sympathy for those directly involved: the stresses must be enormous and AIUI, that's reflected in things like suicides. Presumably, landscapes will change quite quickly but it's a long time since I walked over any big hills.

mikeymo
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Re: Agriculture

Postby mikeymo » 28 Jun 2020, 11:22am

Cyril Haearn wrote:Average, mean, median, mode?


Yes, that's an interesting question. It's obviously important to choose the correct measure of central tendency. That 170 year old farmer in Little Wissington on the Wold might skew the mean. Then again, there's that 18 month old in Glen Chucking-It-Down who's just started ploughing on her own. ;-)
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francovendee
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Re: Agriculture

Postby francovendee » 28 Jun 2020, 11:26am

Paulatic wrote:
It’s not only the uncertain future support but also the impending loss of the export market. The last 20 years a lot of our hill lambs have been exported. The small ones to Italy, larger good quality lambs to Germany and a lot to France if they are feeling cooperative. The French flock numbers have increased rapidly in recent years.

We came to live in France (Vendee) 18 years ago and saw lots of cattle but sheep were rare. This has changed and whilst cattle are still here in large numbers sheep are now a common sight. We never see any pigs but plenty of goats all reared in sheds.
I'm not sure where all the lamb goes, in the supermarket it's always NZ.

PDQ Mobile
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Re: Agriculture

Postby PDQ Mobile » 28 Jun 2020, 11:40am

Hill farming does not of course primarily mean the "high hills", though they can be a part of its system.
But rather the vast tracts of marginal land in the UK between say 100 and 4 or 500 meters of altitude. Within which there are pockets and slopes of quite high fertility.
Often difficult to cultivate with today's large machines.
But an ancient and very sustainable pastoral system.

Dr Johnson, quoted above regarding Scotland, missed something quintessentially fine about the Highlands and the proud and hardy folk who lived there.
Not surprisingly really for he was looking in the wrong direction!!
Johnson was, of course, the man who is also known for saying; "A man who is tired of London is tired of life".
Not a sentiment I share at all.
He was, after all, something of an oddball. (perhaps it goes with the name!)

Sheep, en masse, were of course the end of certain communities and ways of life, especially in the Highlands after the Clearances.

On another point, 45 is not old to be lifting hay bales.
Many (most?) hill farmers are considerably older than that and still enjoy the physicality of life on the land.
Indeed, by even mentioning square bales (big bales even more so) much of the work of haymaking is clearly highly mechanized!
Spare a though then, for those who still make hay by hand turning and raking!!
And carry it loose.

Yet given the right weather and a small field full of diverse and fragrant flora, there is something ancient, fine and wholesome about making hay.
A favourite job.
And the smell of it safe and dry in the barn led one farming neighbour to comment "you could eat it"!!

Rural depopulation has already happened in very many places.
Driven by complex factors, but the aim to put ever cheaper food on the plates of lovely London and the cities not least amongst them.

The changes here in the hills of Wales over the last 60 or 100 odd years are hard to overstate.
Where hundreds of men worked and lived on and from the hill country now there are now comparatively but a handful. Many old houses high up are fallen into ruin.

This depopulation of the hill country has led to a considerable ecological degradation of many marginal sites.
Diversity, that so important factor in many different ways, now much reduced compared to former times, especially in pasture and hay meadow.

Bracken (which sheep will not control) and Brambles (which they will control) have already spread over vast tracts of hillside and into woodland respectively.
Bramble being the lesser of the two evils, IMV.
At least it's good for bees and birds, and jam!

The hill land cannot compete with the lowland fertility. Life was always something of a struggle, though not necessarily unhealthy at all and not without reward in ways other than mere wealth.

Mechanization is often somewhat limited by topography, that is part of the reason. And sheer stoniness too.

There are stark choices regarding hill land, in a modern world, IMV.

Sure we could clad many more of the hillsides in monocultural and IMV ugly dense coniferous forest.
With it's undesirable acidification of soil and often total loss of many indigenous species. But it grows relatively fast- for some financial return, they say.

New deciduous cover, reinstating the old forest, is too slow for much profit in a single lifetime and therefore impossible without subsidy. (Is coniferous forest profitable without subsidy?).

Sheep have one rather important saving grace. They maintain, through their even spread of droppings and urine, fertility on poor ground.
Though over stocking leads to a certain amount of reduction in welcome floral diversity.
It's pretty complicated, and it is tough to strike a balance.

Past over-subsidy and hence over grazing did a lot of damage, especially to native woodland. That balance is somewhat redressed in the last 20 years.
The EU listened to conservation concerns and put funds into "set-aside" type schemes instead of simplistic head subsidy.
Whether that continues under the new "only money" orientated UK Govt is doubtful IMV.

The dreaded bracken still spreads ever wider, partly because of the cost of control, and also the size of modern holdings.
Small is beautiful in this regard.
The smallholder will keep his Bracken at bay -because he needs to.
There is little to be allowed to run to waste because the balance is tight.
But small scale cannot compete against subsidy based upon acreage.

It's a brave new world.
And in spite of some State rumour to the contrary, wealth and it's a acquisition do not necessarily lead to contented people.
There are other factors.

((It's a wet Sunday morning!!!)
Last edited by PDQ Mobile on 28 Jun 2020, 12:56pm, edited 1 time in total.

mikeymo
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Re: Agriculture

Postby mikeymo » 28 Jun 2020, 12:11pm

PDQ Mobile wrote:On another point, 45 is not old to be lifting hay bales.


Quite possibly. It was just a comment I remember mum making. I think it was more to do with looking into the future. I wouldn't really know what lifting hay bales is like when one is 45, I don't think I've done it since I was a teenager, so I'll defer to your greater experience. My father enjoyed good health and vigour all his life, until he didn't.
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Paulatic
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Re: Agriculture

Postby Paulatic » 28 Jun 2020, 12:49pm

PDQ Mobile wrote:((It's a wet Sunday morning!!!)


It’s a wet horrible Sunday morning here too.
Thank you for that enlightened post.

I was 18 when I learnt to shear. Awarded a wool board certificate of competence and allowed out into the world with a set of shears. It was never easy and as a young man I always told myself give it up by aged 40. When I reached 40 i could still outshear young men on the boards ( yes there’s a little competitive element amongst shearers :) ) and it wasn’t until I reached 55 when I said enough is enough this is a young man’s game.
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