Adam Henson - gathering thoughts about the year past
The year is almost over and traditionally, winter is when farmers count their gains or losses and assess the past 12 months. No one can say that 2016 has been uneventful.
In farming, as in all walks of life, the year has been dominated by one issue. Since the EU referendum in June, every conversation turns to the pros and cons of Brexit. The vote to leave the European Union has divided opinion in the industry. For every farmer who voices frustration at regulations and paperwork emanating from Brussels, there’s another who insists that European subsidies are the only method of maintaining the security of their business and staying in the black. There is still no clear indication about what role UK agriculture will play in the Government’s Brexit negotiations – all I hope is that Britain’s farmers get the very best deal possible.
Harvests hard and soft
While these arguments were being aired, there was still hard work to be done in the fields. Harvest is the highlight of the farming year. In my part of the Cotswolds, it was a tense time dodging the summer rain and trying to bring the crops in at just the right time to avoid too much moisture in the grain. We experienced one of the wettest Junes on record and the lack of drying sunshine through the summer wasn’t good news for arable growers.
The first results for the UK harvest this year have been published and show that yields were down almost everywhere. The provisional figures show wheat down 12% and barley down 10% on the 2015 totals. A smaller yield means less to sell, but the prices we can command have also declined. Grain crops are a global commodity and while northern Europe suffered a poor harvest, there was a record wheat crop in Russia, adding to the high supply on world markets and pushing the price down. But there was better news for lamb producers like me. I’ve got a flock of 500 breeding ewes and this year lamb prices are up, while a weaker pound is providing good export opportunities.
One of the undisputed highlights of the year for me (and 125,000 happy visitors) was the first-ever BBC Countryfile Live in the grounds of beautiful Blenheim Palace. Among arena shows, dog displays, live music and entertainment was an area devoted to British farming, featuring some of my rare breed livestock. What else could we call it but Adam’s Farm! It was great to see so many viewers and BBC Countryfile Magazine readers enjoying their day out with us. The good news is the event proved such a success that it’s coming back to Blenheim in August 2017. I can’t wait.
The art of good farm management is to run today’s operations smoothly while preparing for the future; much of my year has been spent on a programme of expansion and improvement on our commercial farm and visitor attraction, the Cotswold Farm Park. That means no families visiting the open part of the farm this December for the first time in years. Instead, the builders are in. They’re creating a bigger, more modern working farm with new stores and facilities for both the arable and livestock side of our operation. At the same time the Farm Park is getting some new buildings and updates to our facilities to enhance the visitor experience. It’s a tight deadline and we have to ensure the works stay on schedule, because we open the gates to the public again in February.
So, plenty to reflect on over Christmas; and a great deal to look forward to when the New Year arrives.
Credit: Sean Maylon