Monday, 11 October 2010

Not quite so free ranging any more

Yesterday evening was the harvest festival in the catheral and celebrated 150 years of RABI.

It was also my last "official" function as Agricultural Chaplain and now I'm not quite so free range any more. I'm roosting at Hanley Broadheath and am licensed next month as Priest in Charge.

Six and a half years as agricultural chaplain has been enormous fun, but parish minstry will also be great fun too.

After the service there were many kind words. I found myself not sure whether I recognised the person they were talking about! As a gift I was given a new camera. It takes high resolution digital photos, but is small enough to slip into a jacket pocket. It was charged up and ready to go and the photo is one of my first attempts with the camera. It's of Chris, the committee chairman and Phil, the vice chair. What's particlurly nice is to see Phil fit and well. He had a significant stroke just a few months ago.

Anyway, as I'm not a free range vicar  I'm not going to continue with this blog, but my Teme Valley Vicar blog will continue.

Monday, 4 October 2010


This Sunday (10 October), the County Harvest Festival is being held in Worcester Cathedral at 6.30pm. The service will give thanks for the farmers who ensure we have food on our plates and also highlight the achievements of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
RABI helps farmers, their widows and children, who have suffered hardship through accident, disease and incapacity. For all its historic roots, RABI is a thoroughly modern organisation addressing the needs of agriculture today.Over the last couple of years they have initiated their “Gateway” project, providing training for farmers who need to diversify their business or find alternative ways of making a living. One of the beneficiaries of Gateway is involved in the service.The service is being organised by the Chaplaincy for Agriculture and Rural Life. It will be Chaplain Robert Barlow’s final event before moving to become Vicar of parishes in Teme Valley South. He said: “It’s easy in our country where food is abundant to overlook its importance. The harvest festival is a great opportunity to recognise the hard work that goes into getting food onto our plates and say thank you for farmers and other rural and agricultural organisations.”
The Worcestershire Young Farmers will play a key role in the service, bringing gifts to the altar to represent different areas of farming. The Rt Revd John Oliver, one of RABI’s trustees and chaplain to the charity, will be preaching about the work of RABI, highlighting the tough life faced by many farmers and the support RABI provides.
All are welcome to the service which starts at 6.30pm. Light refreshments will be available afterwards.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Harvest Festival is coming

At a time when churches are planning their harvest festivals services, this briefing is intended to give the information you need.In your services please remember that above all else they need to be services of thanksgiving.

We are fortunate to live in a country with good food security and it is easy to take food for granted. The map (Maplecroft Publications) ranks countries for food security (green low risk to red extreme risk –grey no data). From our position of security it is easy to become complacent.

Farmers who produce our food face challenges of weather and world markets. This paper helps us understand how this affects local agriculture.

a. UK Harvest(Wheat, Barley, Oats...)
The dry spring resulted in slightly early development of the crop and farmers who had sown seed last autumn (oilseed rape, oats, barley) were able to get that harvested slightly earlier than usual. Spring sown wheat was much as usual.  Quality was generally good as were yields except on lighter soils.  Wet weather in late July and into August brought combines to a standstill. The dry week at the end of August & into September was generally just about long enough for most famers to grab what harvest remained, though quality of grain had deteriorated. 
Cereal prices have been high. Extreme hot weather in Russia has devastated their harvest and their government has banned exports.  Canadian wheat harvest is predicted to be 22.7Mt compared to 26.5Mt in 09/10. The widespread flooding in Pakistan has devastated farm land.  This has led to increases in wheat prices and volatility in the futures markets as speculators get involved. One farmer said “There’s been more movement in the market in the last five weeks than in the last twenty five years.”   Prices now for November delivery of wheat are around £165/tonne, though not all farmers will get that. Probably around a third of the crop has been sold forward earlier in the year for around £100/tonne.

b. Livestock
The dry spring reduced the amount of grass growing and the amount of hay & silage produced was down by about 20% at a time when lack of grass meant farmers had to feed livestock.  That has pushed prices for hay & silage up by about 40% - good news for the few with a surplus, not so good for those who had to buy it. High cereal prices have a knock on effect with high cattle feed prices.
Prices for sheep have been (relatively) good, with the exchange rate between the pound and the euro favouring exports.  Cattle prices saw a downward blip in July, but now have steadied.
Milk prices continue to be poor with the National Farmers Union joining forces with the Women’s Institutes  to call for an end to “bully boy tactics” from the supermarkets.  Earlier lobbying had led to an increase in the price paid to farmers for milk sold in supermarkets, but prices for milk that goes to make butter, cheese, yoghurt.... remain disastrously low.
TB in cattle continues to be a major source of stress for farmers. One dairyman in Warwickshire hung himself days after his beloved herd was found to be infected. Farmers generally are hopeful that the new government will take the necessary steps to bring the disease under control but are frustrated by the delays there were when the Welsh Assembly tried to bring in a wildlife cull.       
c. Other farming issues
Costs – Fertiliser costs are dependent on oil prices and the NFU report they have  gone up by about £20/tonne (roughly 10%) in the last month
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – Across Europe about 40% of farm income comes from CAP. Without it farming would collapse in Europe. The current CAP runs till 2013. Negotiations are currently ongoing about what should replace it from 2014.  Farming is a long term industry. Not knowing what the CAP will require just a few years away is unhelpful.  

Harvest Resources

    Harvest Jokes
      An agricultural joke.  
      A beautiful princess is going out for a walk when she meets a talking frog.
      “I’m not really a frog”, says the frog. “I’ve been turned into a frog by the wicked witch. Really I’m the incredibly handsome son of the local farmer. All I need is a kiss from a beautiful young woman like you and I’ll turn back into the handsome farmer and we’ll get married and live happily ever after.”
      “Really”, says the young woman, picking up the frog and putting it in her pocket, “The way things are with farming, I’ll settle for a talking frog.”

      Another agricultural joke
      A farmer turns up to evensong and discovers that he and the vicar are the only people there.
       “What shall we do?”, asks the vicar.
      “Well”, replies the farmer, “If I goes to feed my sheep and only one turns up, I feeds her.”
      So after four hymns , two sung canticles, one sung psalm,  two lessons, prayers for everything under the sun  and a twenty minute sermon the service ends.
      “If I goes to feed my sheep and only one turns up, I feeds her”, says the farmer on the way out, “but I don’t give her the whole bag full!””

      And another.
      A city banker is stressed out by his life and decides to adopt a simpler life as a farmer. He sells his docklands flat, cashes in his share options and buys a farm. He decides that as people like chicken, he is going to produce chickens.
       He clears out a barn, orders a load of chicks, puts them in the barn, closes the door & goes to bed. In the morning he looks in on them and they’re all dead. He decides they must have been a defective load of chicks, so he orders in another load from a different supplier but exactly the same thing happens.
      He decides to consult an expert so he writes to DEFRA – the government department that oversees agriculture.   We writes;
      Dear Defra,
      I am a chicken farmer. I get a new load of chicks. I put them in the barn. In the morning they are all dead.  What am I doing wrong? Do you think I might be planting them too close together?
      Yours sincerely,
       A Farmer
      He gets a reply;
      Dear Farmer,
      We couldn’t possibly comment until we have taken soil samples.
      Yours sincerely

      Sunday, 29 August 2010

      Medium sized little church

      We might not have quite been big little church today, but we were certainly medium sized little church!
      Celebrating the joys of being small on a bank holiday weekend when people were likely to be away always had a paradoxical sort of logic about it, and so it turned out.
      But for those who were there, there was an experience of worship in something much larger than they usuall enjoy, an opportunity to discover something about what other small churches are doing, excellent music and a thought provoking sermon on the role of yeast - that small fungi (fun-guy) that transforms. The challenge is to be those fun guys and fun gals that transform the society around us.
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      Thursday, 15 July 2010

      Don't miss it!!!

      It was three years ago when church congregations from the Diocese of Worcester descended on the Three Counties Showground one summer Sunday for an event we called "BigLittle Church". Well, now we're going to do it again. On Sunday 29th August, the weekend of the August Bank Holiday, we're inviting you to cancel your normal Sunday morning worship and to come and join us at the showground and be part of something big.
      Anyone can come; you can come as individuals, as families or as entire congregations. We'll get together a choir to lead our worship and there will be a range of activities through the morning. You can bring a picnic and make it a day out. As the name indicates, the aim of BigLittle Church is to let those of us who often worship in small congregations be part of something much larger, something that reminds us that the church to which we belong is a great multitude. And we can do it at the showground, not as guests at some bigger church than our own but as joint hosts along with everyone else.
      We've chosen quite deliberately a Sunday when congregations often struggle with numbers and when many clergy may be taking a well-earned break. We hope for some parishes it will help ease the complexity of summer holiday worship arrangements. We know that many United Benefices already use the fifth Sunday of the month as a day to do something together. We invite you on this occasion to think even wider and join with others from across the diocese.
      I don't want to suggest that "big is beautiful". It's really quite special that all across the diocese we sustain regular worshipping congregations in small communities, often reaching a level of Sunday attendance that is a much greater proportion of the local population than big churches achieve. We are able, if not always every Sunday or at the same time, to offer services in the places where people feel they belong, rather than requiring everyone to congregate in larger worship centres. I'm not suggesting that we abandon that aspiration - not least because I don't think that would work. But it is good to be reminded once in a while that the church of God is much larger than the visible congregation who gather week by week in any one place; and to be built up by our time together, so that we can better retain our confidence and our sense of belonging when we meet in our separate places.
      Some come along!
      Download publicity flyer

      Tuesday, 13 July 2010

      Pea Pickers

      The pea pickers in this photo are from Bulgaria, Rumania and other central European countries.
      They are housed in accomodation near Stratford and bussed to the site to pick peas. Paid on a piece work basis they are garuanteed at least the minimum wage. With practice the better pickers earn well above that and earn around £80 a day. Many of the pickers return year after year often bringing friends or relatives with them.

      The jobs are available through the jobcentre in Evesham but locals don't apply.


      Sunday, 11 July 2010

      Archdeacon's Announcment

      Fred Trethewey, Archdeacon of Dudley is making the following announcemnt.
      "I am delighted to be able to announce that the Bishop of Worcester has offered the appointment of Priest in Charge of the benefice of Teme Valley South to the Revd Robert Barlow, and the offer has formally been accepted. 
      Robert is well known in the farming community in Worcestershire having been the diocesan officer for Agriculture and Rural Life since 2004. In addition to this role he has been exercising a pastoral ministry as an associate priest in the West Worcestershire Team Ministry which includes Martley and Clifton. 
      Before coming to Worcester Robert was Rural Officer and Rector of several rural parishes in Peterborough diocese. 
      Robert has three adult children who have all established their own homes. He and Helen are looking forward to moving into the benefice in due course. A date for the licensing has yet to be considered."

       I am delighted with the move. I've met a number of the people from Teme Valley South and I'm looking forward to working with them. I've set up a blog and as I move from being free range to roosting at Hanley Broadheath I'll keep it updated.

      Here are a few photos to whet your appetite.

      Sunday, 4 July 2010

      Why so unappealing?

      On Saturday I went to a performance of Guys & Dolls @ the out door theatre @ Kilworth Hall Hotel. An excellent performance with a very good cast. It was a musical that I didn't know & I enjoyed it immensely.

      It raised questions.The story is set in 1950s New York with a Mission going round the streets full of sinners - mostly gamblers- singing hymns and banging drums.The Mission was very earnest, condemnatory, unattractive & dull. The drinkers and the gamblers they were set among had much more fun!

      By the end of the story the "sinners" - the gamblers- had changed. But so had the Mission - and a good thing too.

      How is it that Mission & Church have managed to become so unappealing ?
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      Friday, 25 June 2010

      A star - well done

      I am the proud father of a star. Alistair has won  the  Craft Guild of Chefs  Award for best Pub Chef 2010. - That's like the Oscars of catering.  Click here for the ceremony. He's about 2.30 in 

      Thursday, 17 June 2010

      Sea weed in the midlands

      This field of cereal has had remarkably little conventional fertiliser, but it still looks healthy.  The soil and crop have been managed with an application derived from sea weed - and sustainable resource- which works with the soil fungi to improve the crop's root system and therefor health and yield. It makes economic and envirnonmental sense