Archive for September, 2010

Reports of a tiff are greatly exaggerated

Mark Twain, in the title there. Not sure it worked, but it’s made me feel a bit cultured.

Poor old Andrew George though, eh? And I’m not just pitying him for this terrible photo we keep wheeling out on FWi:

Andrew George
Having spent years helping the NFU thrash out arguments advocating a supermarket ombudsman to protect farmers from dodgy retailers, he probably thought he was a shoe-in for a DEFRA role once the coalition agreement was signed.

To the surprise of many (myself included), the department’s top job was handed to Conservative Caroline Spelman while the other posts were given to other Tory ministers, making DEFRA one of three government departments without a Lib Dem representative.

Perhaps keen to show they really do have an interest in farming , the Lib Dem’s decided to hand Andy the role of the party’s agricultural spokesman. A token role? I s’pose we’ll have to wait and see.

Speak to anyone at DEFRA, and they’d have you believe it’s a situation everyone’s happy about. Farm minister Jim Paice has scoffed at the idea that he would be making decisions without consulting his Liberal chums, or that they weren’t all in complete agreement over farm policy.

That’s not quite the idea Andy is putting across though. ¬†At the Lib Dem conference¬†he made a series of statements which certainly didn’t give the idea all was well at the ranch.

Abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board is is a huge mistake, he reckoned, while he’s yet to be convinced behind the science of a badger cull to tackle bovine TB.

And the fact there are no Lib Dems in DEFRA? Well apparently that’s a disappointing situation that “you have to ask questions about”.

He didn’t just say these things once either. I caught up with him later and he repeated those lines again while I scribbled away in my notebook.

Andy is an experienced politician – he’d know that saying those things to a journalist meant they were going to get published. That’s why I cringed when I read the statement he put out at the end of last week.

Apparently, reports of any policy rifts were rubbish. Everything’s just fine and dandy, he reckoned, it’s just “misleading reports in the press” that made suggestions to the contrary.

DEFRA big cheeses have also been swift to come out and insist everything’s okay between the two parties. That’s all smashing on the surface, but you get the sneaking suspicion Jim and Andy will be having a few meetings this week to try and iron things out.

A cyncic might suggest that was what Andy was after in the first place and reports of him having a bit of a whinge have won him the ear of the ministers. If that’s the case, I’m happy to have done him a bit of a favour. Maybe I ought to be misleading a bit more often, eh?

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Democrats doubly disappointed

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Lib Dem Andrew George is disappointed the Lib Dems don’t have anyone DEFRA, as covered by Farmers Weekly and Western Morning News.

Spot the difference, anyone?

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An apology…

… from the crazy cat lady…

Caroline

…for being a terrible hostess (from what I can really recall, anyway – I don’t even remember saying goodbye).

I promise on 2 January you’ll find me at the airport like this:

SnoopyYippee

Sorry xx

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Liberally lovin’ Liverpool

I’m in Liverpool at the mo for the Lib Dem party conference.

Being a geek, I love party conference season, but so far this one hasn’t really lived up to much.

It didn’t help that it took bloomin’ hours to get here and I seem to have booked into a hotel run by the offspring of Basil Fawlty, but the fringe events just haven’t been inspiring in the slightest.

One of them involved a bizarre line-up of an MEP, a nutritionist, a woman who worked for a random local food charity thing and the lovely Julian Hunt from the Food and Drink Federeation. The conversation flailed wildly from food labelling, EU legislation, health, nutrition, farming’s carbon footprint and whether people should eat less meat to save the planet. Scarily, I think Julian was the only one on the panel who really knew anything about the food chain, which was a terrifying thought considering the other panelists were the ones creating policy and informing the public. As a certain audience member was herd to mutter: “What a load of b*llocks”.

Another was a rather bizarre affair where the panelists were introduced by their green credentials, rather than their names and where the main speaker, energy and climate change minister Chris Huhne, turned up late. The panel chairwoman had to freestyle until he arrived – it was like watching a bunny being caught in car headlights.

On the plus side, Chris did have some interesting things to say about green energy. For one, he thought wind turbines were “beautiful” (obviously he was trying to win me over) and the government had to work on making people recognise how smashing they were if it was going to meet its targets of producing 20% of renewable energy by 2020. Anaerobic digestion plants also needed to be given more of a push. I s’pose we’ll have to see what happens in the comprehensive spending review later this month to see whether he’s really serious.

Having been talked at about green energy for a couple of hours, as I was leaving the conference centre at the Albert Docks I had to wonder how Liverpool’s big wheel was powered. If I was the kind of person to take a cheap shot, I’d say there’s so much hot air around the place at the moment that it could probably be run on renewables.

liverpool wheel
Like I’d be that cheap though….

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A confession…

I was forced to watch some James Bond this weekend.

And I liked it.

Ssshhh – don’t tell anyone….

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The age of austerity

Mr News Editor, Mr Chief Reporter and I went into London on Tuesday to have lunch with DEFRA farm minister Jim Paice.

We were meeting him ahead of his official announcement about the possibility of allowing farmers to cull badgers to help combat bovine tuberculosis. The idea was we’d get the low-down on the consultation plans so we could get cracking on covering the story as soon as the embargo was lifted, and also have a bit of a catch-up with Jim about upcoming farm politics stuff.

While I might not agree with some of his or his party’s politics, I do like Jim. I’ve dealt with him for five years now and I’m not sure he ever really thought he’d get the senior role he’s been handed. Which is which I like the fact that his position of authority hasn’t changed him, or the down-the-line way he speaks.

Yes, other ministers thought he was “bonkers” for taking on responsibility for sorting out the RPA.

Yes, he’d be an idiot to think he wasn’t going to face a legal challenge over any badger cull plans he might give the go-ahead.

No, we weren’t going to trick him into giving us any clue where DEFRA plans on making budget cuts.

My favourite line though was when we were getting ready to leave:

“I assume you’re paying for this. The taxpayer doesn’t pick up lunch bills.”

Without waiting for a reply, he got up, swept past the maitre d, and left the restaurant.

If this is what politics is in the age of austerity, I love it.

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Why udder cream didn’t work

For those of you who have suffered my tales of back woe on Twitter (and for my mum, who can somehow find her way onto my blog but not to an email inbox) I thought you might be mildly interested to see these pictures.

I’ve seen several doctors and physios over the past couple of years after I picked up a handbag and something cracked in my shoulder, leaving me unable to do anything but lie on the floor.

Since then I have tried bathing in emu fat (apparently an aboriginal remedy for painful joints and muscles), while the very lovely DiggerEd sent me some of this stuff to see if the liniment in it helped ease the pain:

Udder cream

It seemed agricultural solutions didn’t rectify the problem, so I finally took myself to an osteopath last week, who x-rayed my back. Here are the results:

Dodgy neck

On the left, the way a normal person’s neck should look. On the right, my mangled, wonky neck, which is apparently reminiscent of a 50-year-old’s.

And it gets worse. Apparently I have a curved spine too. Check this out:

Dodgy spine
Snazzy, hey? Mr Geography reckons it’s down to dodgy genetics, but I’m blaming it on slaving away over a hot laptop at FW Towers. I’ve already got a list of what I want to achieve from my extended Nuffield travels, but now I can add back pain relief to it. Roll on leaving my desk behind…

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The wall of terror

Of all the things to be confronted by when you arrive at the NEC in Birmingham at 7.30 am, a giant wall emblazoned with your ugly mug isn’t really what you want to see.

Just look what the Farmers Weekly stand at the Dairy Event and Livestock Show is adorned with:

Horrific

Thank goodness I’m behind a sofa so I’m blocked out of view most of the time…

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The Shire. Classy, eh?

Birthday drinkies, a party with friends, Christmas coming early, flat vowels and Keifer.

Gotta love weekends out of the city.

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Meat, milk and beer – the perfect way to spend a day

Having seen some great farms together in the United States, the UK Nuffield 2010 Crew decided to keep things a bit closer to home yesterday with a trip to Staffordshire.

While a few of us were missing (bad luck to Princess and Peckie for the annoyingly-timed dry spell), we met at fellow scholar George Finch’s place to have a look at his business – Medium Rare.

I’d visited the farm a few years ago when George was part of the Mercer Farming team who won Farmers Weekly’s diversification farmer of the year award.

Mercer Farming is run by the very lovely Roger Mercer, along with his son, Rob (who rears free-range pigs and is also George’s business partner) and his youngest son, Alec (who rears free-range chickens).

The Nuffield Crew

It’d take a while to explain everything that goes on in the business, but three years after my first visit I still think it’s one of the best-run farm enterprises I’ve ever seen.

Everything on the farm has to prove itself as a profitable business, without the Single Farm Payment even being taken into consideration.

Subsidies are put into a seperate account and used for environmental purposes (the farm’s got some cracking meadows in a Higher Level Stewardship agreement) with the understanding that the farm shouldn’t rely on them in case they are taken away by the EU one day.

Afterwards we visited Rupert Major’s farm to look at his grass-based dairy system (congrats to Rupes, Chris and Rhys for totally brainwashing me about the benefits of farming this way – I’m sold) and then headed on to Freedom Brewery, where we learnt about brewing lager. (Interesting fact – the word ‘lagering’ means ‘to store’, and to make proper lager the stuff should be allowed to brew for six weeks. Apparently Carling brews for just 3 days.)

Despite the lager-based headache I’m now suffering from, I had a brilliant time. Great farms and great company, I’m looking forward to next year’s gathering already….

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