Conserve our Hedgerows

Isn't this better ?

We need to be preserving this, the skill and the hedge.

In these days of burgeoning fuel costs surely a new approach to agriculture is required.  It is unsustainable (yes its that word again) to keep over-capitalising farming with investment (or finance packages) in bigger and ‘more efficient’ machinery, especially tractors.  Now I have to declare something of an interest here, I am a lover of horses on the farm and of the early tractors, such as the Standard Fordson and the ‘Fergie Fach’ – the little grey Ferguson that revolutionised farming after the War.  Not that I imagine for one moment that we can go back to those days, we could never produce enough food for all the people, BUT are the sorts of horse-power which modern tractors have, really required in Wales ?

More of my tractors in a later post;

It seems to me that the ability to have an air-conditioned tractor cab, oh yes, with a little fridge for the driver’s coke, and the de-rigeur piped music, is rather o.t.t.  in this day and age – an age of increasing oil demand and where food production (especially in the third world) is giving way to bio-fuel production.   Does the fact that silage can be now gathered in three days instead of four really warrant the four huge John Deere’s,  pulling massive ten tonne trailers through the lanes, following on the American Prairie type chop-forager and its side-kick, the alien insect that is a modern tedder, itself pulled by a huge hp’d tractor and dangerously filling the lanes.  And lets not forget, back at the silage pit/shed, the buck rake itself drinking fuel like there’s no tomorrow.  A farmer friend told me a couple of years ago of his astonishment that 1200 gallons of red diesel had not been enough to allow the silage contractors to finish his crop – whereas two years previously it had been the case that under 1000 gallons was enough for the same crop.  Notwithstanding, the same farmer bought a new MF at the Royal Welsh – essentially because of the ‘good trade in deal’ he was offerred and the seductive nature of the cab adornments mentioned above – and no doubt the pretty nubian sitting on the bonnet – if you’ve been shut up in the Welsh hills for the previous ten months, a shiny red tractor, a pretty girl and an attractive ‘money-in-your-pocket’ deal will be too much for most farmers – and not just those from Ceredigion !  He happened to be ‘topping’ the field in which I was dry stone walling, and after lunch, I noticed he had stopped by the gate, I walked over to chat, he was putting red diesel into his red tractor, “do you know” he said, “I filled this up before coming out, it took £123 of fuel (the rising price of red had started people actually realising what it was costing to run tractors, a first for sure) and now I’ve got to put more in, and all I’ve done is top three fields”.  Now for those of you that are not familiar with farming practise, ‘topping’ is basically akin to running the mower over your lawn at the start of the growing season just to get rid of old long stalks and bits of old grass, essentially to ‘tidy up’.  Yes, it has an effect on the ultimate crop in terms of grass production, but I doubt the economics stack up.  Forget the capital investment of the tractor and accounting for its rapid decline in value, forget the labour cost of the operator, just on fuel alone, the extra grass – and hence benefit in terms of livestock production /weight gain – would in no way be a ‘good return’.  Of course the same economic argument could be advanced for much of agricultural activity – interestingly more and more of my customers are realising that what it costs them to bring a lamb to market is more than they will ever get for it, in other words they have finally realised that they are subsidising lamb production out of their own (well actually our) single farm payment.

So what’s this got to do with hedgerow conservation, you may ask.  The same economic argument needs to be applied.  Now I don’t know, and I may be way off the mark, but it seems to me that if the cost – say over a five year period – of buying, running, maintaining and equipping – with flail and driver –  a tractor for hedgerow trashing was accurately assessed – and fortunately we don’t have to recompense all those drivers whose car tyres get punctured as a result of trash lying in the road after the event – how much cheaper is it going to be than employing a skilled hedgelayer, who would only need to trim once every three years and lay every ten, do the sums someone !!

The obsession, for that’s what it is, of local highways officers, of landowners and others, for ‘tidy’ roadside hedges and verges is nothing short of lunacy.  What we need is a sustainable way of maintenance, what we need is to preserve rural craft skills, what we need are secure long term, satisfying jobs in the countryside, what we need is to ‘go back to the future’ !

Do you know anyone who thinks a trashed, disemboweled, raped and pillaged hedgerow looks tidy ?  Do you know anyone who thinks a beautifully hand laid, craftsman finished hedge looks ugle and taudry ?  I rest my case.  However, there are other issues…. 

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