Farming Matters
Farming Matters

AS I write, I should have been in the wilds of Oxfordshire (and yes, there very definitely are wilds in Oxfordshire) for RABI’s AGM and annual conference.
More than 200 people from all over England and Wales were due to attend, to learn more about the fantastic fundraising efforts of our supporters during the past year – not least, by our committee in County Durham.
Even more importantly, people would have heard the personal stories of some of those we have helped and how the support we’ve been able to give them had impacted upon and improved their lives.
Each time I hear these stories, delivered honestly, openly and gratefully, without looking for sympathy, I am moved to tears.
I am not alone; invariably those brave recipients of our charity who willingly share their stories are given a standing ovation from the assembled throng.
This year’s annual meeting was to be particularly special as 2020 is RABI’s 160th anniversary year.
We were founded by an unusually enlightened (for the time) group of Essex farmers led by John Mechi.
RABI in the 19th century was a very different organisation from what it is now, but our aims and principles – to support farming people when they need it most – have changed little.
To celebrate this special anniversary, we were due to have been joined by our royal patron, the Duke of Gloucester, and our keynote speaker was to be Minette Batters, president of the NFU.
What of the current crisis? Social isolation isn’t really a problem for most farmers, that’s their way of life anyway, but what is a problem is the closure of so many of the markets.
I’m sure most of us have taken advantage of the half-price, top quality steaks that have been on sale in local supermarkets – steaks that would normally have been sold into the restaurant trade.
Despite the best efforts of many of our local restaurants to provide a takeaway service these closures have had a colossal impact on demand for produce.
Farming isn’t like a factory production line because you can’t just stop or pause it according to fluctuations in demand.
Nor can you quickly switch to producing something else, like some of the clothing factories who, within days, were able to go from producing high end fashion goods to manufacturing much needed PPE.
All credit to them for their flexibility and rapid responses, but that steak you bought in the supermarket came from an animal born at least a year ago.
Farmers need to have a steady flow of cattle ready to go to market on a regular basis and keeping them until demand turns around is not an option as meat past its prime isn’t what people want to buy. Animals still need to be fed and feed does not come cheap.
Other casualties of Covid-19 are milk producers.
All those coffee shops closing has meant a huge drop in demand for milk. Milk processors are finding life tough and some are going out of business, leaving dairy farmers with a highly diminished market for their milk.
These are the sort of people who ask for RABI’s help; without their monthly milk cheque they may have no money to put food on the table for their own family.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Fantastic weather made lambing much easier this year and lamb prices seem to be holding up so far. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this will long continue.
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