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Farmer looks out at literal green shoots of recovery
PROFILE: DAVID CHRISTENSEN
Recent floods left 128 acres of David Christensen’s farm near Abingdon under water for nine weeks.
He is still waiting to see whether the grass will recover.
Then there’s the constant struggle to protect his 1,200-strong herd of cattle against TB.
Last week, eight cows tested positive for the disease and will all have to be slaughtered.
Despite these problems, Mr Christensen, whose family have farmed at Kingston Hill Farm at Kingston Bagpuize for 45 years, is passionate about the business.
Growing up, he had “all sorts of wacky ideas” about what he wanted to do for a living.
But by the time he was 16, he decided he wanted to follow his parents into farming and took a degree in agriculture. The 46-year-old dad-of-three, explained: “Farming is a bit like a drug, it gets into your bloodstream.”
After university, he spent a gap year in New Zealand, milking cows on a dairy farm.
Now he runs the farm with wife Catherine and they have three children Thomas, 16, Matthew, 12, and seven-year-old Nancy.
They run a ‘closed herd’, which means they don’t buy in cattle, preferring to breed their own. The livestock includes 600 milking cows and 80 per cent of his turnover comes from dairy.
He is a member of Arla, a co-operative made up of 13,000 farmers which provides milk for well-known brands Anchor and Lurpak butter and Cravendale milk.
Arla accounts for a quarter of all UK milk production, which has given its farmers the ability to strike better deals with supermarkets and other buyers. Export sales of milk are growing, including to China, where recent food scares including the death of children from drinking contaminated milk, has boosted demand for European milk.
He said: “It’s about getting a good price and to do that we need scale and clout, which we get through Arla.
“We are getting 34.5p a litre for milk now, up from 16p a litre at its worst in the early 2000s.
“If Arla was a plc, the profit would go to its shareholders, but farmers own the business.
“We wanted to redress the balance of power and make sure we get our fair share of profits, so we can improve facilities and the welfare of our cows.”
He’s on the Farming Regulation Task Force Implementation Group, advising the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the steering group for the Princes Rural Action Programme, set up by Prince Charles to help dairy farmers.
There are six staff employed, including four permanent, two interns plus contract workers as and when needed.
He added: “Farming has a huge amount going for it and a hugely exciting, if challenging future ahead.
“The best moments are when I’ll be looking out at a really nice group of heiffers we have reared, or ploughing a field and thinking the job’s been done well.
“Or, when everything starts to green-up for the spring you think ‘Yes, this is very special.’
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