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WESTCOUNTRY FARMER: Spring sun brings hope after deluge

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 19, 2014

WESTCOUNTRY FARMER: Spring sun brings hope after deluge
Comments (6)

Much the most heartening sign of spring from this vantage point has been the gradual emergence of vegetation – one hesitates to call it grass – from the gradually receding floodwaters.

The moors south of Langport are permanent pasture and well-adapted to intermittent flooding, so the land will eventually recover. After 12 weeks under water, I doubt if the grass will be much use before July at the earliest, and other parts of the Levels – around Moorland or on Currymoor, for example – have fared much worse.

Still, this spell of dry weather has done wonders for the collective agricultural morale. As I drove down to Exeter a few days ago, it almost seemed as if the land itself was heaving a great sigh of relief, as the sun came out and the waters ebbed away.

I noticed there were even some cows out in the Culm Valley, enjoying the exercise and fresh air, if nothing else. And, as ever, I felt for their zero-grazed cousins, confined to their all-mod-cons sheds. I wonder if they feel particularly miserable, when they can sniff spring in the air, calling them out to pasture?

Lambing is in full swing, at least on lowland farms, and is going pretty well, by all accounts, with fewer horror stories about Schmallenberg disease, thank goodness. A combination of the vaccine and last year’s dry summer, which reduced midge activity, seems to be doing the trick.

And if the weather stays dry, I confidently predict that there will be more muck spread over the course of the next four weeks or so than in any comparable period in British farming history!

But I am afraid that spring has not brought with it any change in the main political preoccupation in farming, which remains bovine TB, and in particular, the wretched badger cull. I say “wretched”, not because I am against culling diseased badgers as an essential part of the strategy for beating the disease, but because I am very far from convinced that the cull which MPs were debating (prematurely) last week is the best model, and because of the resources, political capital and goodwill which it is using up to achieve what is at best an uncertain outcome. At the time of writing, the report of the independent panel which is evaluating last autumn’s activities had still not been published, but I think it is reasonable to assume the criticisms leaked to the BBC may not be a million miles from the truth, and that loads more controversy is in store when the official report finally sees the light of day.

The saving grace will be that the “need to learn lessons” from the pilot culls, which Defra Ministers have already acknowledged, should open the way to a complete re-think. The existing model of cull may or may not work for disease control – it will be several years before we find out – but it certainly doesn’t work for the people involved. It is too cumbersome, too costly, too easy to sabotage and too open to the criticism that healthy badgers are being killed alongside diseased ones.

It is time for Owen Paterson to display some of his characteristic boldness, and sanction a much more targeted cull, aimed at eliminating badgers known or strongly suspected to be diseased. If he is challenged in the courts by the badgerists, then so be it. If the worst came to the worst, the Government could always change the law.

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  • fischadler  |  March 19 2014, 1:13PM

    It is funny that the articly describes Paterson's boldness when time and again he has been shown to be an utter coward both in the floods crisis and the badger cull fiasco. There has never been such an arrogant and mis informed man in the history of politics. He is a danger to the environment and should be removed from his post forthwith.

    Rate   7
  • groundnut  |  March 19 2014, 12:36PM

    It has nearly all been said by the other comments to this article, indeed it is being said in this article VACCINATE. But as can be seen by the House of Commons debate 219 MP's vote to stop the cull. And Government play Politics. They will still be playing the same style of Politics if and when the IEP report gets published. They have bypassed all science to date in favour of politics. And Farmers do not praise Paterson. He has cost everyone time and money and any meaningful progress towards the long term eradication of Bovine TB. We have not long to wait for the next report on 2013 from the Welsh Government. I am betting that their report will be positive and on time, factual and just compare the costs. I am also betting that it will again stress that the major part of its success, is due to Cattle testing and movement measures. And that it will again support Vaccination. And probably indicate its forward thinking on Field trials of cattle Vaccination and improved testing. Paterson and Defra will be looking towards the next stage of indiscriminate Badger Slaughter. Because he is prejudiced against science, has no updated figure for the incidence of TB infected Badgers and has his vested interest lobby of the NFU and the Countryside Alliance at his back. No other Minister so closely aligned with this failed exercise, would visit a chocolate factory on the day of a debate to end the cull. If he was both able to defend his position and not choose by the planned action to show contempt for Democracy and the electorate. (IEP report or no IEP report) But be minded those 219 MP's will not go away, they may even defy Parliamentary whips next time round and increase in Numbers. The Public has in increasing numbers seen through the Politics being played against humane, science based comparisons elsewhere in the UK.

    Rate   7
  • NDJMILLER  |  March 19 2014, 11:51AM

    Interesting that the author mentions the Schmallenberg virus and another particular word - VACCINE. Hold on a minute, vaccinating livestock that will enter the food chain ? Is that allowed ? Well yes actually it is ! http://tinyurl.com/o9ap32j Here's another one - salmonella. http://tinyurl.com/ndntsgg More livestock vaccination which in this case resulted in a drop of over 97% in the infection rate over 17 years. So let's get this straight. Chickens are vaccinated against salmonella, cattle and sheep are vaccinated against Schmallenberg and these animals are all entering the human food chain. So why we are still prevaricating about vaccinating cattle against bTB just because some clown in the EU objects ?

    Rate   10
  • dandypeople  |  March 19 2014, 11:37AM

    Most people would accept the removal of confirmed diseased badgers. They are unlikely to accept 'strongly suspected to be diseased'. The problem is that there is no real way, yet, to determine which badgers are infected, have been exposed to infection or are infectious. The only test so far available for use at the cage trap is not very accurate, it is likely to find those that are highly infectious but not those in other stages of the disease. PCR on the ground only detects the presence of M.bovis not which badger or other mammal was responsible. M. Bovis can remain viable in the soil for 2 years so any pcr around a sett may detect bacteria left 2 years before, it is not an indicator of current infection status. The only valid choice until such times as a better test comes along (a new test is on its way and should be available in a few years, for any mammal, cows included, that will give a result in minutes) is to vaccinate badgers. Research has shown that vaccinating one third of the badgers in a sett reduces the likelihood of unvaccinated cubs getting the disease by over 76%. Although vaccination will not cure a sick badger research has shown that the severity of the disease can be lessened. As badgers only live 4 - 5 years by the time the vaccination program finishes any diseased badgers will have died out leaving a clean population. Badgers do not need vaccinating every year, once is enough, the program continues for 4 years to vaccinate cubs and any that were missed. In Wales they have vaccinated and out of over 1100 trapped last year not one showed any visible signs of disease, so where are these emaciated, sick badgers Owen Paterson likes to talk about?

    Rate   4
  • fischadler  |  March 19 2014, 11:19AM

    I cannot understand why farmers resist vaccinating badgers when they can see how well it is working in Wales. Instead they persist in blaming badgers for a disease of cattle. They need to wake up. There is always a better way to protect our remaining wildlife than exterminating it.

    Rate   7
  • Clued-Up  |  March 19 2014, 10:28AM

    The "complete rethink" needed from DEFRA is the immediate abandonment of the badger cull and its replacement throughout England by the impressively successful Welsh cattle bTB reduction programme. The public won't stand for a continuation of the badger cull, Cameron knows that and he now has to find the least embarrassing way of stopping it.

    Rate   7