I noticed another blistering attack on modern farming in a Sunday newspaper this week.
It was the usual attack on large-scale dairy, pig and poultry farms and the vandalism of farmers in pulling out hedges to create grain-growing and vegetable-growing prairies at the expense of the countryside we once all knew and loved, plus damage caused by chemicals.
Simplistic and emotional – anyone who thinks we care that much for the countryside only needs to check their nearest verges for rubbish and nearest path for dog faeces – but there is something to be said for that view. I don’t like dairy herds counted in thousands, pigs by the ten thousand, hens and chickens by the million or grain prairies. But unless we’re prepared, or able, to pay much more for food that’s the way it is.
Trading results for the main supermarkets in December emphasise that. Those at the lower price end, such as Lidl, Aldi and Farmfoods, increased market share and profits.
When someone gets excited about a dozen sausage rolls for £1, tell me food quality and where it comes from still counts and that Government and other attempts to encourage shoppers to buy more quality British-produced food has any chance of success?
Ironically, the hardest-hit supermarket was Morrison, the only one that commits to and can guarantee 100 per cent British meat. As all supermarkets try to regain market share the main sufferers will be suppliers because prices will be squeezed. Only those producing on a large scale at wafer-thin unit cost returns will be able to comply.
One irony is that according to Oxfam, never knowingly undersold in creating scare stories, the price of food in Britain is already among the highest in Europe with a record number of people turning to food banks. Looking at the fast food wastage and rubbish on any high street and the number of outlets and cafes in any small town I find that hard to believe. Maybe I lead too sheltered a life, believing that home cooking of good quality healthy ingredients is a way to cut food costs and that food should be a priority, not secondary to every other thing we spend money on. Live on processed gunk – such as a dozen sausage rolls for £1 – and you’re wasting money, getting poor nutrition and getting fat.
Remember those long-term weather forecasts made last October about a deep-freeze winter on the way?
So far we’ve had temperatures several degrees above average and rainfall about 60% above average in some of the hardest-hit areas.
The first snowdrops are several weeks ahead of their usual time with unseasonal sightings of birds and butterflies.
So far so good and most arable fields are looking good, if wet. But one or two Jeremiahs have pointed out that early January in 1947 was unseasonally mild, followed by one of the three worst winters of last century.
Let’s not get too confident.