Archive for the 'Farmers Weekly' Category

How farming can butter up journalists

The past few weeks have been very quiet in Farmers Weekly Towers. At one point, there were so few people in the office that I was worried I’d got confused and accidentally come to work on a Sunday.

The supply of serious news always tail off during the summer months thanks to the end of the parliamentary session and people swanning off on holidays. However, in agriculture the ‘August effect’ is always compounded by the fact that farmers are too busy harvesting to bother ringing to tell us what DEFRA’s done to annoy them this week.

But while the good journos of FW are left with slightly sweaty palms as we try to dig out a collection of worthy stories to fill our news section, for the national media agriculture is a rich source of summer-time stories.

As I type, ‘Silly cow’s head stuck in a ladder‘ is number three on BBC online’s most-read list, while the tale of Yvonne the Bavarian cow’s rescue mission has appeared on so many news sites that I’ve lost count.

Cow in ladder

Alongside those I’ve read dreadful puns about mushrooms the size of babies, animal rights protesters hanging signs on cow sculptures and bovine pedometers.

Last year I was interviewed by a journalist in America about the prominence of farming stories during the so-called ‘silly season’. She wanted to know why agriculture was the go-to subject for desperate journalists¬† and tried to steer me towards saying it was due to city-centric media types finding farming so alien and ridiculous that they looked to the industry as a sure-fire source of comedic stories.

If I’m honest I don’t know what the answer is, but if I was a farming organisation I’d make sure I held onto my best press releases until July or August to improve my chances of¬† bagging some media coverage (rural insurers NFU Mutual did a good job of this last week).

Bonkers, quirky stories are always going to appeal to journalists on under-staffed news desks during the holiday season. But as a journalist who is currently cringing at having written up the tale of Yvonne the Bavarian cow herself, I know I’d much prefer to be writing a worthy story.

Anyway, I’d love to hang around and debate this some more, but I need to crack on. This story about a cow made of butter standing to be US president won’t write itself…


Mercosaur sighting #2

I wonder if the artist who drew the illustration for page 20 of this week’s issue of Farmers Weekly had seen my Mercosaur picture.

Mercosaur Dalmatian Cow



Chewy and viscous

I promise to blog about the Soil Association conference properly at some point (I’ll be putting my ranting hat on – be warned), but in the meantime I thought I’d share this with you.

One of the rather nice perks of going to the SA conference is the conference goodie bag. As the event is sponsored by chocolate company Green and Blacks, the freebies usually consist of something cocoa-related.

While I was slightly disappointed the big box in the bag was actually a lump of tofu and not a giant block of choccy, I was pretty pleased that there was a rather smashing Green and Blacks recipe book in there.

I spent a good few hours over the weekend drooling over what my housemate Alex has now termed ‘The Chocolate Porn Book’ before plumping on making some ginger and chocolate cupcakes.

Sound nice, eh? I donned my apron, got out my Le Creuset bake-ware (I’m really a middle-class, middle-aged house wife trapped in a twenty-something’s body) and got cracking.


And very pretty the cakes turned out too.

Pleased with the results, I proudly took my organic, chocolately delicacies to FW Towers today so my FW chums could share in my Soil Association conference spoils.

The response?

“Chewy,” said Mr Poultry. “And viscous.”

That’s the last time I’m taking my baking to work.


My leaving party

It was so nice of the big cheeses at FW Towers to throw me a going-away party at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane yesterday.

Thanks to the 1200 or so people who made the effort to turn up, and to the Prince of Charles for the video message – it was much -appreciated.

FW Awards

There seemed to be some kind of awards do going on at the same time, which was a coincidence.

Congrats to the winners, especially the lovely Hoskin family, who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year.


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.


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:


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


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….



The Farmers Weekly crew had an outing to Epsom races this week to celebrate, amongst other things, winning a PPA Award earlier this year.


It was a successful evening – Dan’s curse appears to have lifted as his attempt at betting didn’t result in anything being shot, and I actually won something. I’m contemplating giving up journalism to become a professional gambler – check out my winnings:



The things I do for you guys…

When Farmers Weekly celebrated it’s diamond anniversary last year, we ran a poll to find out what readers thought the greatest farming innovation of the past 75 years was.

While the three-point linkage came out top, the mobile phone came in a close second as an invention which had revolutionised agriculture.

I’m pretty sure if we do the same survey for FW‘s 80th birthday, the mobile will have have jumped to first place – especially now smart phones are becoming less of a rarity on farms.

While I was in the US in July, I met loads of farmers who were doing everything with their Blackberrys and iPhones– from simple stuff such as emailing, to checking out the weather, trading grain and asking agronomists to identify which chemicals they needed for their crops by texting a photo over. One guy even had an iPad which he was using to map his entire farm and work out soil types and the fertilisers he needed. He also had all of his workers’ phones hooked up to the thing so he could know where everyone was on the farm at any time – very handy when he was trying to keep track of his grain trucks during harvest.

I’m always interested to see people using iPhones in innovative ways and finding apps that make their jobs easier – if only because I reckon it justifies my almost incessant praise of the things.

So, as I’m sure you’ll understand, it’s out of journalistic duty that I’ve had to upgrade to the iPhone 4 so I can find out for myself the ways the latest model can be used on farms.

Hopefully upgrading will also stop my Apple-obsessed friend, Mr Geography, from harping on about how amazing the latest iPhone is. Here’s a photo of him boring me to death about it for the 14,000th time:

Me and Mr Geography

Anyway, my phone arrived this week. It’s possible its arrival may have coincided with my lack of posts on here.

It’s all in the name of research. Honest…


They’re not clones, okay?

If I read one more headline about cloned cows being in the food chain, I think I’m going to scream.

Let’s get this straight, people. You haven’t eaten a clone. You haven’t drunk the milk produced by a cloned cow. Even if you had, it wouldn’t kill you, cause you to grow an extra arm or make your head spin in an Exorcist kinda way.

The cattle that have caused this week’s initial national media, storm-in-a-tea-cup are progeny of a cloned cow from the US (a cow, incidentally, created using the same genetics that creates identical twins in humans – nothing scarier than that). That means they are the children of a cloned animal, not clones themselves.

cows in lane(In case you’re worried, these are ‘normal’ cows, not the ones related to the Yankie clone. I just thought you’d get bored and click away if I didn’t put a picutre on here)

The story then moved on when it was discovered 96 cattle have been bred from those initial eight imported progeny. This makes them the grandchildren of a clone – again, they are not clones.

I initially got wound up about this story because it was published by my favourite chip wrapper, the D*ily M*il, and any story in there tends makes my blood pressure go off the scale. But it was also written in such a ridiculous, dangerously scare-mongering way that I wanted to find the journalist who wrote it and belt him about the head.

The saga has brought up some interesting questions about our role as journalists at Farmers Weekly. We reported on the story as it broke and unfolded, but we did it in a way that was (I hope) measured and rational.

Continue reading “They’re not clones, okay?” »

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