Maple Field Milk — latest news and reflections on the ‘dairy crisis’

21st July 2012

I  set about moving the ‘bail’ this morning, encouraged, not least, by the stream of unaccustomed sunlight falling, unfiltered, upon the field…….. I moved it as fast as I could.  I thought of it as a Royal Tournament exercise, with military men in shorts running in teams at a pace beyond belief. No……. it was one herdsman in shorts (under a floor length apron) moving with the stealth of a bar–tender collecting glasses. The International Harvestor 574 cut into life at the first twist of the awkward American ignition key and the race was on.  Up went the rear ramp with one-handed ease assisted by the helpful springs placed by the thoughtful engineer.  Up went the side ramp with a dreadful gasp of the herdsman at full stretch (no thoughtful springs!).  Up screwed the 4 grip/stalk legs at the four corners like the legs of a moon-landing vehicle. Inside go the two metal cattle hurdles that form the ‘funnel’ to guide the cows up the ramp. Inside go the two food dustbins; the electric fencing that forms the collecting yard; the ‘yard scraper’ (never used);  the yard broom – used every milking to keep the back area of the bail scrupulously clean. Move off tractor with ungainly contraption behind to the new milking point in the bright green pasture. I get the satisfaction of a circus owner. All bacteria and detritus left behind to do nothing but good to the pasture. And, without pause the cows rush in to the milking bail, in its new place, facing in a new direction, without falter, eager for the grub and the lyrical music playing over the wind-up music machine — today it is the Penguin Café Orchestra followed by Allo Darlin playing ‘Neil Armstrong’ to link with the moon-landing vehicle and the general circus fun of it……….all done in the interest of protein and profit.

I woke up this morning to the sound of John Humphries and a leading member of the Farming Programme  giving a rep of the Retail Consortium a good going over on a Saturday…….just the job…no-one gets away with it – no waffle;  no rubbish data or ill-researched comparisons that makes everyone who persistently uses them look less than human. The subject in Mr. Humphries’ sights was the Dairy protest and blockade and what is behind the rage and the fury. Noone is better placed to ask. John Humphries was a dairy farmer in Wales.  They made it very clear and I ran out to the field with a greater understanding of what we must do. That each dairy farmer in  Britain and the USA must follow each lovingly produced litre of liquid protein to the point of consumption;  to stand guard over the miracle ‘pinta’ until they are paid for it;  no longer to wave goodbye to the cheerful tanker-driver and witness the product being confiscated by a remote and selfish grocer.

To some extent (I began the week differently, but…..) to some extent there is power in the vociferous David Hanley (Farmers for Action) and his protest to the Hall of Westminster. The Minister of State for DEFRA has been forced out of the shadows, where she lingers, making no comment or statements about anything at all. She has been forced to ‘hold a meeting’ next week to try to stave off protest during Olympics fortnight……..what a feeble and last minute treatment of a long standing and grizzly problem.  I would rather perform the Royal Tournament bail-moving procedure and milk my loyal and determined cows and perform for my customers who know me and want me to be here for ever, every day of the week, independent of the ‘futures market in world cream’ and all the nonsense that goes before and after it.  Be sure that it is a perceived collapse in world cream markets made out of electronic quibbles in the futures market – not a real ‘shortage’  or ‘scarcity’ or ‘glut’.

The only protest of any consequence at all is the one that persuades a customer to pay for your product.  That way a warm and long running embrace is borne – one that is difficult to break.  We have short memories.  ASDA stands for Associated Dairies and was formed in the late ‘60s by four Yorkshire dairy farmers so fed up with the law of diminishing milk prices.  Where are they now?

Nick Snelgar

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