Dear Father Christmas
It’s been a while since I last contacted you, so I assume you might by now be accepting letters by email. Rural broadband is rubbish here in the UK unless you happen to be near enough to a fibre cable hub, which we are not. Sending my letter up the chimney like we used to do as kids is a challenge. The log burner runs all the time to keep us warm as electric, propane gas and oil are so expensive. Once again, rural dwellers can’t get on to mains gas as it’s not available. I imagine though, as this is one of the premier local newspapers, you probably get a copy sent to you.
Before I give you an update on all things farming that you can mull over at your leisure whilst drinking your warm, spiced, red wine, let me give you my gift request. Your elves will need to talk to that nice man who works for Farol Ltd to see if he can give you a pair of John Deere overalls to put in my stocking. He might also be able to help you with ride on lawn mowers, chainsaws and all sorts of pasture care machinery. All ideal for looking after Rudolph and his pals.
Something I am sure you have noticed, as your work load on Christmas eve must have increased hugely, is the number of people who now inhabit earth. Back in the year 1800 there was 1 billion people. It took 123 years to add another billion, then it really took off. By 1987 it had reached 5 billion. On November 15th this year a baby was born bringing the current population to 8 billion. Although the birth rate is falling now and in some parts of the world to such an extent that your services will be greatly reduced, we are still on target to get to 9 billion by 2037 on current predictions. These people have got to be fed without destroying the planet, so as farmers we are going to be just as busy as you and your team.
That brings me to a shortage of food and how it can be made worse by things that are both within and outside our control. Take eggs as an example, which are currently in short supply. Part of this is caused by Avian Flu, which leads to flocks of birds being destroyed. However, this is only a small part of the problem. The poultry industry has been warning packers and retailers for some time that the current price paid to producers was not sustainable. Supermarkets have put up prices, but this is not finding its way back to farmers. Producers in the UK are currently losing 30p on every dozen eggs they produce. They cannot sustain running at a loss, as their feed and electric costs have increased by so much, so are cutting back on production and investment, hence the lack of eggs on supermarket shelves. Watch out for the cheap, foreign imports that are on their way, that are produced to lower standards. It might be eggs now, but more products are going to follow for similar reasons.
Talking of lower standards, the government sets maximum residue limits (MRL’s) for the amounts of pesticides that are allowed in food sold in this country. These are well below any level that would cause harm to humans by some considerable measure. Recent testing has found that some foodstuffs have breached these MRL’s and that some of the pesticides found are chemicals that UK farmers are no longer allowed to use, so could only have come from imported raw food materials. Along with the EU, we have some of the strictest rules in the world around food standards and MRL’s. This is backed up with a world leading farm assurance scheme, namely the Red Tractor. For those that have decided to choose organic food, there is a scheme to cover this too, with strict protocols to achieve before it can be labelled ‘organic’.
Got to go now Father Christmas as I need to load another lorry with quality assured barley to make some UK beer. Your usual bottle of Loddon ale will be waiting for you along with a homemade mince pie and some British carrots for the reindeer on Christmas Eve.
Happy Christmas and take care not to over do it on the big night.