View From the Farm

BY JIM WEBSTER

I’ve been trying to get my head round what is happening with the beef and lamb trade at the moment. As far as I can make out ‘cock-up’ is more likely than conspiracy. With the sheep trade it’s obvious that the buyers just stopped buying yesterday. It wasn’t just that prices plummeted, they weren’t even interested in buying at low prices.

Given the amount of lamb we export, even the rumour that our trading partners were closing borders because of Corvid 19 was going to cause chaos. Who wants to be left with wagons of expensive lambs? Especially when there is no certainty as to whether you can sell them on, or even if you’ll have enough staff to man the line in the abattoir, or how you’ll get the carcasses into France.

With beef there is less uncertainty but things are still going to change. First the restaurants closed, then places like McDonalds. All these take a lot of meat, especially beef, from various ends of the market. But talking to people in the trade they’ve noticed a lot of butchers are taking more beef. Butchers who perhaps took two or three full carcasses a week are having to take four or five to keep up with demand. Talking to a local butcher, they are starting to see a lot of supermarket customers in their shop. Not only are they strange faces they don’t recognise, but apparently a butcher can tell from the questions they ask that they’ve only ever bought meat from supermarkets.

Then for those people doing box schemes, apparently it can be difficult to keep up with demand. This makes sense from a customer’s point of view. You get quality produce delivered to the door, and of course you’ll be in to take delivery. It’s not as if you were going anywhere.

It looks as if the supply chain is frantically trying to keep pace with a fast-changing world. A lot of big decisions are being made and they’re being made for serious epidemiological reasons, not for the convenience of any particular industry.

My guess is that over the next week or two it’ll shake down to whatever becomes the new normal. On the understanding that this whole situation is going to last at least a year, one way or another, how bedded in is the new normal going to get? After all with FMD, whilst it screwed up the industry at our end, it didn’t make an awful lot of difference to the consumer. But this time it’s the consumer who is finding their life’s changing.

When we come out of this, are people who have finally discovered how to work from home really going to want to commute? Does anybody in their right mind want an hour and a half journey either end of the day? Will their employers who realise they can get away with a third of the office space ensure they do stay working from home? Will Government start demanding that strategic industries be located in this country? You know, things like vaccine and drug production, the manufacture of medical technology, perhaps even (Heaven forfend) agriculture? Similarly, when the figures come out for the fall in the amount of carbon produced/pollution caused will people be happy for airlines to just go back to what they were? I’ve got a bet on with a mate that they’ll build houses on Heathrow runways 1 and 2 before they ever build a third runway.

Meanwhile back in the real world, isn’t it nice to have fine weather day after day. It’s nice to be able to tidy up after winter. I was cleaning up some branches that had blown down into a silage field and I could watch the pair of swans on the pond at the same time. It’s obvious that they’re settling down to breed. They’ve built the nest and the male obviously has serious territorial issues. He’s spent the last few days trying to drive a pair of Canada Geese off ‘his’ pond. So far the Canadians are hanging on in there, courteous to the last. Still they must be getting sick of him.

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quadbikes and dogs) It’s available here.