A surprise delivery, beavers in Blandford and farmer George Hosford’s personal thoughts on the speakers and messaging at the NFU conference
Since the beginning of February our heifers have been calving steadily. One of the bulls, Mr Red, was introduced to them several weeks ahead of the rest of the herd last May, for just two weeks. We were aiming for a 50 per cent success rate from the 24 heifers; when scanned it turned out he had successfully served 21 of them, so our sheds are currently quite crowded!
Pictured above is Ginge, the only red animal in the bunch. She has produced a lovely pair of twins – remarkable for a heifer – and she is doing them very well.
We now await the start of the main bunch, hoping there will be no more trouble of the kind experienced last week – after calving, one of the ladies popped out a prolapse.
Fortunately there are no pictures of this unfortunate event, but the skill of our vet, armed with some sugar and a shot of oxytocin, and the perseverance of Dougal and Fred late into the evening saw all put back in order. Mother and calf are now doing well.
A trip to Birmingham in February took in the NFU national conference – a two day extravaganza. First up was Agriculture Minister Mark Spencer, who spent some time once again explaining the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). There are many layers to this replacement for the flat rate Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) which has run since 2015, and which rewards landowners simply on the basis of how much land they occupy. Some farmers have been getting impatient to see what ELMS will mean, as the BPS has been gradually reducing and will be down to zero by 2027. DEFRA has been taking its time, (we’ve known something new would be required post-Brexit for a few years now), but there is no point in rushing schemes out before they are ready.
The history of British agricultural support is littered with the corpses of previous premature deliveries.
There is hot debate surrounding several aspects of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), one of the three strands of ELMS, especially the hedgerow and grassland standards.
On a very positive note, hidden among the arable standards are proposed payments for farmers who do not use insecticides, for the establishment of companion crops and for no-till crops. We will be very pleased to take advantage of these options, which show that at least some departments within DEFRA are keeping themselves up to date with soil health and environmental issues.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer delivered a positive, slick speech. He fielded audience questions with good humour and navigated trickier subjects reasonably successfully, insisting that no doors will be closed, and that a Labour DEFRA will follow the science on tricky subjects like bovine TB.
Hardly an assurance worth holding breath for though, when in their next breath they are talking about extending the Right to Roam – bearing in mind the Horlicks the last Labour government made of this topic. The best was kept for last.
You surely cannot have missed the story of how the Secretary of State Therese Coffey bombed.
I have never seen a conference performer behave in such a fashion – she was grumpy and rude, not very well briefed, and completely failed to engage with the room, let alone with NFU president Minette Batters, who was her interviewer.
Beaver on the Stour?
Beavers have been in the news again recently. Farmers seem to be very good at getting worked up about them – worried that their land will be flooded and trees will be damaged, while finding it hard to understand the good things a beaver can bring to their environment.
It is true that if they are to be introduced – and they already have been in many areas, including several sites in Dorset – then we ought to be allowed to manage them if their dam building threatens more harm than good.
However, the government in its wisdom has made them a protected species, so their lodges, dams and the creatures themselves cannot be interfered with. There is so far no sign of a protocol by which they can be managed. Beaver damage to trees has already been seen near the Stour north of Sturminster Newton, and a beaver was filmed by a member of the public in the river in Blandford last summer.
To show beavers in action, mostly under cover of night, here is some video from Cropton Forest in north Yorkshire, where they have erected a dam 70 metres wide which is claimed to be reducing flooding risk to the town of Pickering.
However, local intelligence suggests that the erection of a bund, a reservoir that holds 120,000 cubic metres of water, and more than 100 leaky wooded debris dams may also have something to do with keeping the town flood free …
The Farming section is sponsored by Trethowans – law as it should be