Friday 24 June 2016

Crofting outside the EU - the sheep clearances.

At least the hens leave a profit
I never really thought it would happen. Angry disaffected workers on low wages with insecure employment plus a bunch of elderly "Little Englanders" ; their grievances hi-jacked by incompetent right wing political freaks ( Johnson, Gove and Farage) have led the UK over an economic cliff in the dark.  So what next for Scottish and UK agriculture especially crofting.

The right wing economic think tank the Institute of Economic affairs (IEA) promotes free market solutions and feeds ideas into Tory party policy making. They claim that current farm subsidies in the UK increase the real price of our food by 17% and should be abolished. The Brexit campaign leaders (UK Provisional Government) gave us a a policy and fact free campaign so there is a good chance that they will adopt this once they have power ( in the absence of any ideas of their own).

Across the EU farm subsidies average about £10,000 per farm business per year but this average hides wide variation. Here in the UK it ranges from about £600 -700 a year for a croft up to hundreds of thousands for the big landowners and even millions in some cases. The Editor of the Daily Mail for example is reported to get £150,000 a year land subsidy for his deer forest in Wester Ross. So where does this leave us Crofters?

Last year it cost me roughly £50 to get a lamb from conception to market at Torlundy. My average income for those lambs was £43.50 less the auctioneer's commission. A loss per head of £8.00. I carry on doing this because of the Single Farm Payment and Less Favoured Areas supplement of about £600. Without the SFP it would be madness to carry on. This would also happen on many of the 18,000 crofts in the crofting counties.

It's not all bad news removing sheep from vast tracts of the Highlands would result in naturally regenerating woodland on common grazings and croft land;  a big plus for conservation.


After the last bout of CAP reform payments were based on the area of land owned and actively occupied not the commodities produced. So its a "land subsidy" not really a farm subsidy.

Friday 10 June 2016

"Peak Green" - Organic food and June in the English Midlands

Peak green in S. Warwickshire
Summer came as a surprise in the West Highlands after a long winter ( and Spring) of storms rain, snow, frost, mud and gloom. Early June was gloriously sunny and hot.

Here in South Warwickshire the countryside has reached "peak green", the greenness is overwhelming like the heat. It's also peak pesticide time.

Hot dry weather means mildew on cereal crops and burgeoning aphid populations have reached their thresholds for action. The sprayers are out because it's windless too and spray drift is minimal. As a student I absorbed an agricultural orthodoxy that high yields were our ultimate goal, pesticides were safe because they were extensively tested and we needed them to feed a fast growing world population. As a farm manager I went on using them for years until cracks began to show in my logic.

Organic enthusiasts were eccentric and unscientific; Britain had never been better fed or more neurotic about what it ate. But: to quote the late Muhammad Ali, If you think the same when you are 50 that you thought when you were 20 you have wasted 30 years".  I was wrong.

Field beans sprayed yesterday in full flower when bees are most active
Two things have convinced me. First Dormouse buys only organic fruit and veg from Riverford Organics, its delivered to the door in re-recyclable / reusable packaging every week. The Riverford stuff is top quality in every way, flavours are better, it's seasonal, only a bit more expensive than the supermarket and it tastes so much better. Spraying  isn't just killing the target species, aphids, it's killing everything else including the ladybirds that eat the aphids and honeybees. That is happening worldwide in all sorts of crops with all kinds on animal life.

Last week driving to Glasgow airport in the small hours, I started with a clean windscreen and it was almost as clean four hours and 180 miles later. There was hardly any "fly squash". Fifty years ago I would have had to clean the windscreen at least once. Even the West Highlands appear to be affected. We can all do something about it if we buy and grow more organic food.

As for "peak green" at the end of June cereals will be yellow, the beans will be slowly turning black all foliage here will have that dusty min-summer look.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

A walk round the wild island - Isle of Rum excursion

Last week a small group of us from Kilchoan walked a circuit of the Isle of Rum.  From Kinloch to Dibidil on day one, then via Harris to Guirdil and finally up Glen Shellesder and back to Kinloch. This was all done in full sun, high temperatures and a cooling easterly breeze, perfect conditions.

Overnight we stayed in the MBA (Mountain Bothies Association) bothies. These peculiarly Scottish mountain huts are weatherproof, usually have sleeping platforms, a fireplace or stove and resident mouse. There's no running water, no electricity and the toilet is a long walk with a spade. Anyone can use them and there is no charge.

Sounds idyllic but there is a downside.  It's the synchronous stereo snoring of the other occupants. Why is it the snorers don't keep themselves awake? On night two, at Guirdil, I slept outside on the short, springy turf above the beach. Midges weren't a problem because of the breeze, my ex-army bivi bag kept the ticks out and the dew off, waves rolling on to the shore sent me to sleep.

The island is a National Nature Reserve. I t was probably too hot for eagles but the wild flowers were at their peak, the deer were due to calve and we had wild goats peering at us from the crags above Papadil.

The food was good, the weather perfect, the company excellent and the mountain-sea-landscape without parallel. Try it some time!

I should have added...... combined age of the six members of the group 390 years, 65 +or- 8 each.