YEAR OF LUDICROUS RULES AND HIGH PRICED TUPS
Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, 28th December 2002
LOOKING forward to 2002 a year ago I would have liked to see things in the farming world getting back to what we would think of as normal following the foot and mouth debacle, writes Appleby NFU group secretary MIKE SANDERSON. However, it is now becoming increasingly obvious nothing of the sort is going to happen.
The first thing everybody wanted to see disappear was the bureaucracy involved with anything to do with moving livestock but, although some of the licensing eventually slipped away, we are still left with this ludicrous 20 day rule which stops everything moving off a farm for three weeks after an animal has moved on. It makes no sense whatsoever and the result is that farming livestock in the area is nigh on impossible.
The rule encourages illegal movements and has also been quite legitimately and legally got around by moving stock and off holdings to suit the paperwork. This makes for extra unnecessary movements, which is exactly the opposite of what is wanted.
Not brave enough
There are no boffins, vets or politicians in London brave enough to get out of their ivory towers and come down on the side of common sense. Surely a sensible and less onerous system would deliver more of what all sides want.
In the Upper Eden Valley, 2002 has seen a dramatic redistribution of the area's dairy herd. Numerous medium size herds have not been replaced because of downward pressure on the milk price, while economies of scale have led to all the bigger herds getting another 50 or 100 cows. You can see where it's heading and I suppose that's progress, but I'm not sure it's for the best.
You can't look back on 2002 in these parts without mention of our auction companies. We've seen Penrith Farmers' and Kidd's give up the ghost on livestock auctioning, while others have been more than willing to come in and take their place. Many of the figures have been in the public domain, but it strikes me there's more to it than meets the eye. Time will no doubt tell.
Neither can you look back on 2002 and not talk about the record-breaking #100,000 Swaledale tup. I wasn't called on to do so, but I am quite sure I could have justified it to the press or TV.
I didn't study economics at school but I understand supply and demand - a large percentage of the Swaledale flock was slaughtered and farmers were quite rightly compensated so they could replace them.
It stands to reason that the price was going to reflect the fact there was only a certain number of quality tups around.
Although #100,000 is an awful lot of money for one animal, if you reckon he could quite easily get 20 tup lambs at #5,000 then you're soon into profit, and if he can manage one or two more then away you go.
The actual sale of the tup himself was pure theatre. The ring at Kirkby Stephen was jam packed because he was that day's prizewinner. Maurice Scott was in the box auctioning him and milked the occasion brilliantly - you could hear a pin drop.
As the price went up and up he waved his hammer around the ring and asked: “Are you looking at me?" I certainly wasn't - I didn't dare twitch. “Were there any more bids as there are a lot more to sell," he said. ,Tek yer time, tek were time," was the response of the vendor, a certain Mr Slack, of Stoneriggs. Absolute magic it was. Mr. Scott was walking on air for weeks.
It certainly wasn't the best of PR for hill farming, but it definitely shut up those sniping over the valuations of pedigree stock. It didn't do the tup insurance man any harm either!
One of the more interesting things this year has been watching folk go back after foot and mouth. Some have jumped right back in, but others have just dipped their toes into the water. I've been asked for my opinion many times, but all I could say is that they'd have to ask someone a bit wiser than me.
There has been one thing on the increase and that's the number of organisations and bodies dishing out advice, but I'm not sure they're any wiser than me. I'd say go with your gut feeling and do what suits you and your farm set-up the best - and certainly don't do what attracts most grant.
From a personal point of view, 2002 has been just as traumatic as foot and mouth in 2001. Because of illness we've had to give up Hause Farm and sell up. Stock dispersal and farm sales were every bit as hard as foot and mouth culls.
Although I'd not lived at Hause Farm all my life, it's always been part of my life and that just disappeared in front of my eyes. Friends, neighbours and family were all very supportive, but it's still hard when everything you've worked with for years disappears out of the farm gate.
And finally. . . . . .
In a nutshell 2002 was change at an ever increasing rate on the road to....