Field drainage week!

Field drainage week!

In terms of matters to report, there is not a great amount to share either as regards sheep or cattle. The winter-feeding regime continues, and the pastures remain sodden and in places flooded. We were very happy to welcome Clement back and he has immediately got involved in work on the farm and business park.

The Aconites are flowering, and the weather has been slightly more interesting in that we had a few days of chill at the start of the week before returning to the now ‘normal’ unsettled pattern.

This is not to suggest there have been no triumphs! The monster pressure hose machine we hired has been doing its stuff both on the business park and on the farm. Using it is hard work when it comes to field drains. The first task is to find head walls and that in itself is not straightforward since we have no firm idea where they might be!

When one is found, which requires wading along ditches and often fighting your way through the ever-present brambles – great for wildlife of course and so left alone where they are not a hazard to sheep – until brick is seen – the head wall. These sit at the end of the main drainage for a field and depending on the field there may be more than one. All allowing water to flow into a ditch.

Having found the head wall, the next task is to find a source of water as the machine uses a vast amount for every minute it is running – mains water pressure is inadequate, so a natural source has to be found.  So, from the machine run two pipes – one pumping water in from say the stream or pond and one sending water at a pressure of 4000 psi through a thinner pipe inserted into the entrance in the head wall. The water pressure is so great that this pipe drives itself forward clearing roots and silt as it goes. For all involved very hard work and extraordinarily muddy!

We are now of course, conscious that under the pressure of other events we have been too inactive over some aspects of the field drainage. This is not to say that over some 14 years we have done nothing – for example our ditches have had attention as needed – but the lack of certainty as to where the drains might be, has made it all the more difficult.

In the 1830’s, January was the month for creating and maintaining ditches. Two types of drainage were employed – water furrows, and covered drains. Interestingly it appears that at this time clay pipes were not in normal use. The drains were filled with stones, straw and branches before this 10” layer was then covered with soil. These were the drains the water furrows flowed into. The farmer is advised that at £3 an acre he will get his money back very quickly!

I have briefly referred to the work going on in the business park and may have mislead you into thinking the works are minor – they are not! The farm units were converted in the 1990’s and the sewage system dates back to that period. Rationalisation and updating became an obvious necessity a couple of years ago. The first stage of the updating was completed then but we knew more had to be done. This task is much more complicated and requires much greater excavations to ensure gradients are correct and this means the top of the new tank will sit two metres below the ground. The attached photos hopefully demonstrate the scale of the task.

On the political front, you may have registered that an Agricultural Bill has been laid before Parliament and is currently going through the scrutiny process. As a side comment, given the way this government has ‘brushed aside’ attempted amendments to its Brexit Bill, probably ‘scrutiny’ is an over optimistic word to use.  That said, on the face of it there is much to applaud. Soil conservation appears to be the key feature, together with completely moving away from the current financial support for farmers over the course of the next seven years. So far so good but, given the importance of the trade with the European Union countries, tariff levels after January 2021 are a worrying uncertainty, as is the possibility that standards for imported foods will be relaxed.

What seems to escape attention is that non-organic farms use vast amounts of fertiliser – essentially from fossil fuels – of which nitrogen is the larger part. Rather than waste energy on issues such as methane from cattle, the government needs to realise it is the agro-business that causes agriculture to feature as a major contributor to release of carbon and show some courage in tackling that sector. We all also need to bear in mind that the UK is responsible for less than 2% of world emissions. The largest polluter is the USA and encouraging their food production by importing food from there is bad for the world.

Our struggles with the RPA continue. However, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel. With our MP Rachel Maclean now fully aware of our problem, and the many other concerns we and neighbouring farmers share over the operation of the Agency, the appropriate hierarchies are, hopefully, having to take issues more seriously.

Seeds and dung beetles

The pasture-fed network is buzzing again with issues ranging from the importance of dung beetles, the need to take account of your soil in choosing the best seed mix, to a very interesting report dating back to the first part of this century, that there had been an up to 50% fall in vital trace elements in the food we eat over the past 80 years. First released in 2002, it was of course rejected by vested interests, but in 2007 it reappeared backed by yet more science. You will be well aware how important trace elements are to the health of sheep and cattle, and how seriously ‘good farmers’ take the issue. How fascinating that with our obsession with obesity and new chronic diseases in humans, no government seems to have ever attempted to tackle what is probably the root cause.

American impeachment

The temptation to comment on the American impeachment trial and Mr Trump’s claim that his country has the cleanest air, water or whatever of any nation, and that climate change is just daft and that of course pigs can fly, is all but irresistible – but to what end other than hopes that our current Prime Minister does not attempt to emulate him.  

Beales of Bournemouth

An aside – some of you may have noticed that Beales of Bournemouth has gone into administration. In the year of our marriage, the area of the Square in Bournemouth was dominated by huge department stores –  Plummers, Brights and Beales. By the 1980’s only Beales remained. A family company still, my father was asked to write a history of the family and the company. His efforts were printed, with bound copies going to the Beale family, and less glamorous editions to the Local History Study Group which he had developed some years before under the aegis of the local education authority.

The poem I set out below was suggested to me and resonated enough for me to want to share it with you despite the gloom it engenders!

Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now, by Matthew Olzmann

Most likely, you think we hated the elephant,
the golden toad, the thylacine and all variations
of whale harpooned or hacked into extinction.

It must seem like we sought to leave you nothing
but benzene, mercury, the stomachs
of seagulls rippled with jet fuel and plastic. 

You probably doubt that we were capable of joy,
but I assure you we were.

We still had the night sky back then,
and like our ancestors, we admired
its illuminated doodles
of scorpion outlines and upside-down ladles.

Absolutely, there were some forests left!
Absolutely, we still had some lakes!

I’m saying, it wasn’t all lead paint and sulfur dioxide.
There were bees back then, and they pollinated
a euphoria of flowers so we might
contemplate the great mysteries and finally ask,
“Hey guys, what’s transcendence?”   

And then all the bees were dead.

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