Life on the farm: coping with the unpredictable

Last Christmas someone sent me a cartoon of two pigs shivering in a snowy field and one saying to the other, “Don’t worry, I heard we are getting blankets for Christmas”.  Not this year according to newspaper headlines. Of course, the press has a licence to make stories a little more sensational than they really are, but these are difficult times for pig farmers. We sell a batch of pigs every two weeks, but for the last two months they have cut our numbers by at least 25 percent. Because these pigs are then rolled over to the next batch, it is only a problem if they become overweight or if you do not have enough accommodation to keep them in. So far, this has not been disastrous for us, but we will be glad when we hear the problem is easing. I suspect it will only ease when the price they pay us eases – natural cynics we farmers.

There are also predictions of a shortage of turkeys this Christmas. For the first time in my memory, we have not reared turkeys on the farm before Christmas. This is not great timing in a year when you can name your price for a Christmas turkey (although we always tried to keep our price consistent year on year). At least everyone on the farm is looking forward to a more relaxing run-up to Christmas. However, we are still supplying oven ready turkeys reared on our neighbour’s farm, together with sausages, bacon and gammon from pigs reared on our farm. We can guarantee you will not be deprived of your pigs in blankets this Christmas if you buy local.

It is ironic that while we have problems selling pigs, we have the opposite problem of buying commodities we use, such as fertiliser and pesticides. Prices for ammonium nitrate have increased by at least 50 percent, if you can get it at all. I suppose dealing with the random nature of such things, as the weather or animal diseases, should prepare us for the present chaos of supply and demand. That is not to mention the uncertainty of politicians making trade deals and devising or not devising a system of support for agriculture when the single farm payment disappears.

Meanwhile, out in the fields, all was safely gathered in at harvest time and all the winter planting has been completed. The crops appear to be coming up well, but we expect the unexpected, as with all the events outlined above. All we can do is ‘keep calm and carry on’.”

Mike Hartley

December 2021 – January 2022