Monday, 24 August 2009

My Saturday Evening on the Combine Harvester

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed going out to meet the harvesting crew on Saturday evening. I could sit with briefing paper after briefing paper but I always find I learn so much more when I've actually been to "kick the tyres" on any subject.

There's no 45 hour week during the harvest season. Bruce, driving the brand new New Holland CR 9090 has been behind the wheel from morning until 11pm every day for the past fortnight only stopping when the rain is really heavy. Even with this state of the art machine there is no time to rest, and he hopes to have finished by Tuesday.

I saw real team work. The combine is accompanied by a fleet of 3 tractors and trailers off loading the grain in a constant cycle back to the store. No time wasted. Within a day of harvest another crew will come in and either cultivate and re-seed with rape or plough ready for for the next wheat crop. The new seed must get in the ground and start growing before winter sets in.

Innovation is constant. Jim proudly showed me the new cultivator rig that he had modified and built himself to meet the farms specific heavy clay soil and significantly beating the performance of the best available in the market.

There is real care for local wildlife - birds, hares and foxes were lovingly watched out for as they scampered away. "the countryside is what makes the job so special" said Bruce.

Care is taken of the ground too. I asked Charlie the boss why he was re-ploughing the straw back into the earth when I saw neighbours bailing it up for sale. He explained that he ploughs back every nutrient he can. "Its the potash - the world is running out" he explained "it won't be an issue in my lifetime but will be for my son." Charlie's son is only 8 but in farming those who care about the future think many years ahead.

Charlie went on to explain that despite the better technology and exceptional team work the actual yields per acre of ground have not significantly improved for many decades. "The world population is growing but we're not growing any more. We will run out of food" Charlie explained. This is all before climate change. He asked me to focus on the importance of research and development in seed types. (Incidentally I notice that Defra is worried about this too - their consultation Food 2030 was launched mid August and they are hoping for comments by the end of the summer - I wonder how many farmers will have time to do that over the harvest period?)

On the way back home we discussed the volatility of world food prices and the challenges his friends and family members have around the country, from cattle (beef) to dairy herds, the milk price and power of the supermarkets.

In just a couple of hours on a Saturday evening I have learnt so much and started thinking about much more. Thank you to our local farmers for sharing their harvest thoughts.

Friday, 21 August 2009

What have you done this August?

Its nearing the end of the holiday period and I have to admit its been good to spend the past fortnight based at home.

The local radio station called today. They wanted to know my views on the "112" emergency phone number that one should be able to can dial from anywhere in Europe as an alternative to 999. Seems like a sensible idea but it will be interesting to find out if the radio listeners have every heard of it or tried to use it!

I've learnt that its impossible predict what might come through the MEP postbag. From do I support the NHS (yes) to how should one challenge a parking ticket in Florence or a Cypriot insurance claim? The advantage of having 3 Conservative MEPs in the region is that we can share out these case work issues and also learn from each other's areas of expertise.

Very many people have been extremely helpful in helping teach me about a cross section of different issues. A leading Cambridge entrepreneur explained the pros and cons of Silicon Fen vs Silicon Valley. Rebecca Harris (one of our South Essex PPCs) and I went to vist Ford's R&D facility just off the M25. We saw how each new generation of engine is developed and tested .... Did you know each minor modification is stress tested to make sure it will start at -39C just in case it is ever asked to cope with a Finnish winter. They have some pretty impressive fridges!

I'm also discovering that every meeting like this raises a number of questions that deserve following up. I can't do it all myself! Even people who I thought knew a lot about politics are surprised when they learn job doesn't come with any pre-assigned assistants. Maria who is running the UK office has spent her summer overseeing building of dividing walls and negotiating rents as well helping with the emails. From next week Tom will be running the Parliament research side.

Tomorrow morning (Saturday) I will join one of our local MPs for a canvassing session and have just heard back from the local farmer who's going to take me out on the combine in the evening. Conversations outside our local post office often involve recent movements in wheat prices. Next week I will spend a few days meeting a cross section of different financial institutions prior to the first discusssions on the plethora of legislation on the upcoming agenda. After that I have a week in Brussels, week in Prague and then to Strasbourg. Thank goodness for August!