The festive period and the twelve days of Christmas made me think of other events in 2004 that came in dozens. One that particularly stands out is that of Farm Inspections. There is no doubt that some are justified for reasons of food quality, marketing and safety. Others, however, leave us in open-mouthed wonder as well as bringing out the cynical view. So at times in 2004 it has been possible to understand a little of how General Custer must have felt surrounded by all those Red Indians.
We are, of course, not alone, indeed, a farming friend was recently recounting to us how in space of a couple of weeks he had been overrun! Firstly a visit from the Trading Standards just to check the serial number on his farm weighbridge. Within a couple of days another official from Trading Standards arrived to check all was well with his farm mill and mix unit where he prepares feed for his pigs. The mill and mix unit and feed records are also checked regularly by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, as minerals and, occasionally, medicines are mixed in some of the batches of feed he produces. On the farm we were shown the location of this equipment, yes, not 50 yards apart.
Not far from the weighbridge is a new piece of equipment, an incinerator, now particularly necessary for pig farmers, as it is no longer allowable to bury dead animals on farm. The incinerator, which apparently uses an obscene amount of fuel, had had a visit from a Defra Vet to check that its contents were being properly burnt. This was followed by an Environment Agency official to check that the resultant ash was being spread in accordance with the farm Waste Management Plan. He has had many other visits during the year, but was sure that he had been most impressed by an "Assured British Pigs" inspector who, during his inspection of the farmıs pigs, was simultaneously inspected by a supermarket inspector, who carefully inspected that the ABP inspector was competently carrying out his inspection of the pigs that need to be inspected. We have inspections from two assurance bodies. The National Dairy Farm Assurance Scheme (NDFAS): annually an inspector spends several hours checking all aspects of milk production. Records are examined and boxes ticked - topics include: feed records, animal health records (including a parasitic control plan, a broken needle policy), the soap we wash our hands with, calf nutrition and a waste management plan etc... Our latest guideline booklet runs to 109 pages ...
The Assured Combinable Crops Scheme (ACCS) runs on much the same lines - using a farm audit to check compliance. All aspects of our crop production are examined from the record of washing the combine, to the monitoring and traceability of grain in store, crop protection and fertiliser application records. Many outlets will only accept grain from assured farms. Safety-wise our insurers send out two separate inspectors, one to check the condition of air receiving vessels on the farm, another to check that the farm materials handlers are in good working order.
We also received a visit from the Environment Agency to discuss new legislation concerning fertiliser and animal waste management plans (both topics covered by both NDFAS and ACCS inspectors). This should take "about an hour" - three hours later and the Agency representative is happily on his way - saying "I've learned a lot I didn't know", terms such as mixed farming and rotations added to his vocabulary. A lady from Defra called one day to "check we were a dairy farm" - Patricia showed her the bulk milk tank and some cows - which seemed to please her. Two officials from the Health and Safety Executive paid us a visit on a very wet afternoon - one was inspecting, the other was learning agriculture. They highlighted a couple of small points to attend to - this was done and a letter sent confirming action taken. A month later another official is on the phone wishing to visit when asked what had changed in a month, he seemed surprised that he had not been told we had already been inspected. The Trading Standards visited us to check our usage of animal feeds as we mix both bought in and home-grown ingredients for the various cattle rations that are needed for our stock (also covered by NDFAS).
The farmıs crop sprayer - a self-propelled machine - has been visited, inspected and tested for correct function. It has been issued the equivalent of an MOT. The tractor mounted fertiliser distributor has also had a separate check to ensure its accuracy of application and spread pattern are correct. Both of these inspections have the potential to save money and environmental damage by helping to eliminate inaccurate applications of products. The farm's record of animal movements both on and off the farm have also been checked by Trading Standards.
December, as normal, has seen correspondence with the local IACS (Integrated Administration and Control System) Office in Reading. All claims have to be submitted by 15 May deadline each year. These claims are vigorously checked and any issues to be resolved see the fax machine busy. So, another year over, a new year beginning - a time for wishes, resolutions ...as well as an answer-phone message from a lady wishing to inspect the work we have carried out under the Country Stewardship scheme...