It has been a difficult year for local farmers. The very long dry spell, almost of drought proportions, meant that the grass simply did not grow. No grass means the dairy cows, sheep and cattle do not have enough to graze on during the summer and there is insufficient grass to cut for hay or silage to keep them all through the winter.
Farming has always been highly subject to the weather. Growing up on a dairy farm I remember well some of the tensions around summer weather.
The advent of silage which can be made in wetter conditions and the advance of better machines and technology meant that some of the weather risk has been reduced in recent years, but not when nature plays such a dramatic role as in this year. One local farmer told me over the weekend that he normally achieves three cuts of silage from the same set of fields. This year his second cut did not materialise at all. He hopes there might still be the final cut to be squeezed out before the winter comes. To buy in winter fodder that you usually make yourselves is very expensive, especially when others are in the same boat, pushing prices higher still.
Add this to the uncertainty that farming faces anyway due to Brexit and you have a cocktail of real challenge for our food producers. The government will be bringing forward an Agricultural Bill next year, once we have left the EU, to put in place domestic legislation to replace the Common Agricultural Policy which has shaped our farming for fifty years.
Because we need food security as a nation, because farming is so weather dependant and long term, I accept that we still need to put in place a subsidy regime to support this vital industry. But what should we support? We need farmers to be good stewards of our countryside and this cannot be expectedfor no financial return. We need to continue to encourage activity that benefits us all. We need to support high-volume high quality food production. Currently 40% of our food is imported. It would be good to see that percentage drop over the years ahead.
Government is still considering how best to shape the new regime.
So a difficult winter for our farmers in the context of maximum uncertainty. Spare them a thought when you next pop to the shops. We cannot do without them.