Anton Coaker: Profit and Loss

Discussion in 'Agricultural Matters' started by JP1, Dec 10, 2015.

  1. JP1

    JP1 Moderator

    I do so like to see various farming profitability figures announced. As a rule, I discover that my ability to lose money farming livestock is far from unique. Indeed, depending on how you collate the numbers, I sometimes do quite well! Why, with a favourable wind, my Scotch ewes can sometimes pay for every minute I spend on them, their share of the rent, interest on capital, a realistic contribution to the annual fencing budget….and they certainly should be paying for that… and even leave a margin of a couple of quid.
    Likewise, measures of efficiency can be interpreted almost as many ways as there are farmers. When I was a young man I travelled a bit, and folk from just about everywhere I met along the way were convinced their farmers were the most efficient in the world.

    The Norwegians employed more families per cow than almost anyone, the Australians the least. The Canadians and Yanks farmed the greatest acreages and tonnages of grain per man, while the Brits and Dutch might be talking about yields per acre. The Kiwi’s could shear more sheep per day, while other Aussies clipped the finest and most valuable wool. The Danes did mention briefly that they were rearing more piglets per farmer than anyone else, but then it was beer O’clock. Other Yanks–on the West Coast- declared they grew more and better apples than anyone else, but were reticent about the Mexicans they had to bus in to pick them.

    Various Mediterranean’s had the most olive trees per hectare, although on close examination, I believe they might’ve been claiming to grow these olives on more hectares than they actually had, and, of course, the Germans did everything better, because it iz juzst zo.

    And do know what? Every last one of us was sure that they were the best.

    I’m not sure how we move to the Cumbrian floods, except by comparing who’s playing the blame game. Everyone thinks it’s someone else.

    George Monbiot was quick to blame the farmers again. Indeed, while predicting extreme weather isn’t easy, George is pretty easy to predict. The floods were apparently the result of farming practises, with a dash of conspiracy stirred in. Those rotten hill farmers denude the landscape of trees, and their cousins further down the valleys they drain their fields and straighten water courses, while Government promotes this, and suppresses the truth….comrade. Never mind that we’ve got less sheep on the high hills now than we’ve had for decades, that doesn’t fit with his accustomed prejudice.

    Then, elsewhere I’ve heard that it’s the blocking of drains in the moorland peat, by the ‘sphagnum anoraks’, speeding runoff. This isn’t likely to be true, rather the opposite, but why let evidence spoil a good whinge. It’s also too much concrete, not enough parish lengths men, and a fatal shortage of beavers. Possibly Elvis and the fairies are probably responsible somehow as well.

    One thing for sure is that there’s a lot of disinformation about upland management, and various axes are ground over the subject.

    Monbiot quotes a Welsh study, proving scientifically that native broadleaves should be planted everywhere. Sadly, the text referred to states that the research is being done on ‘improved grassland’, which is exactly not what you find on the high fells. And from what I hear, a certain Northern water company hasn’t been making many friends with their heavy handed approach. Such adversarial approach isn’t going to work.

    Down here, 2-3 quangos have been working quietly to show farmers how to improve matters, giving small grants to do stuff which helps, and makes us think. Recent work restoring the peat mires is being monitored to prove if it’s retaining more water.

    The bottom line in Cumbria though is that no-one can prepare for 12” of rain in 24 hours. Pretending otherwise is just silly. Take a moment to imagine cloaking all the hills around you with a foot of water. The ground was already sodden; it is simply going to run downhill. Whether you should develop floodplains where it’s going is a more relevant discussion…and as ever, many of the aerial shots show flooded properties on very flat pieces of ground, which have clearly been created by millennia of silt being washed down and deposited from higher up. I’m very sorry for those affected, it must be wretched. I suppose, if we must build in such places, perhaps we should design structures and development around what must surely be inevitable.

    Never mind the blame game, the bigger question is what has caused this rainfall event. I don’t recall ever hearing anything like that kind of intensity in the UK before. Is this going to be the new reality? That’s deeply troubling.

    About the author

    Originally published in The Western Morning News, these articles are reproduced for the enjoyment of TFF members World-wide by kind permission of the author Anton Coaker and the WMN

    Anton Coaker is a fifth generation farmer keeping suckler cows and flocks of hill sheep high on the Forest of Dartmoor and running a hardwood and mobile sawmill.

    A prodigious writer and regular correspondent for The Western Morning News, NFU and The Farming Forum, Anton’s second book “The Complete Bullocks” is available from
    jade35 and RushesToo like this.

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