October 2015: Things our European partners get away with

You have to admire the French farmers for yet another demonstration during the summer. If things don’t go your way, just have a drive down the Champs Elysee and dump some manure or even walk a bullock or two there. Cause havoc generally and your government will dole out millions of euros.

Try that here and you’d be locked up, and fined on top of that, just to add misery to your already overstretched bank balance. It just shows how important agriculture is to France and how little we rate in our own country. Every time they have done these demos over the years, they always come out on top. All we get here is more and more red tape heaped upon us, and severe penalties on top for non compliance.

Another couple of examples of how some of our European partners get away with things we would be punished for are the 2m strips next to hedges and the flouting of new stall houses. I was on a very tidy 250-sow, 250-acre French farm in November 2007 and noticed that there were no strips around his fields. I tactfully suggested (or as tactful as I can be) that this could be breaking a European rule. He looked at me quizzically and said: “Ah yes, it’s something new in France, but is only 1m, so not worth bothering about!”

Similarly, the ban on building new stall houses after January 1, 2005 in the rest of Europe was well and truly being broken on two farms in France and one in Germany in November 2007, almost three years after the ban was introduced. At one unit, they were actually putting sows in for the first time that day.

Again trying to be tactful, but inwardly seething, I enquired how it came about. I got the same answer from all three: “We put one brick down the day before the ban, where we were going to build, so we had started.” That, apparently, was acceptable! No wonder I have grey hair! We’d have needed at least the foundations and walls in place methinks!
In order to keep our pig farmers in cheap feed, we need to continually increase wheat yields to compensate for a less-than-cost production price. So what’s stopping us? We used to grow Capelle wheat 45 years ago and it would yield about 2t/acre. Now everyone strives for 4t-plus, but I bet the average isn’t more than 3.6t. Yes, there are the good areas that will yield probably up to 6t, but they’re miniscule in the overall acreage.

What made me think about this was the persistence of wild oats. They never seem to ail from anything disease wise; they don’t appear to need fertiliser; they don’t have trouble from parasites; and they grow on the poorest of land and always seem healthy and reproduce magnificently. Why can’t we study their genetics and develop an approach to make wheat and barley disease and pest free?

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About The Author

Sam Walton is a Yorkshire farmer and former pig producer, and the founding editor of Pig World.