What will happen with the pilot culls of badgers, asks senior farming commentator Anthony Gibson, former National Farmers’ Union regional director in the South West, and its national information director.
The sackings of David Heath and Richard Benyon from their ministerial posts at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) left me baffled.
Both seemed to have done a good job, Mr Heath with the poisoned chalice of the badger cull, Mr Benyon in striking a balance between conflicting interests in the fraught, cash-starved aftermath of the 2012 flooding. What could the explanation be?
No one seems to know, or if they do, they are not saying.
With Richard Benyon, a wealthy Oxfordshire farmer, the only plausible theory I have heard advanced is that David Cameron wanted to reduce the Ministerial toff quotient in the run-up to the General Election – part of his so-called "flat-cap initiative". If so, it is a thoroughly bad reason for removing a capable minister with a good track record in a difficult job.
With Mr Heath, the assumption is that it is something to do with the badger cull; that someone's head would have to roll for the failure to hit the 70% target, and better it be Mr Heath's than Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's.
Again, if this is true, then it is grossly unfair. The fatally flawed design of this misbegotten exercise was insisted upon by so-called "scientists". Its prosecution was the work of the NFU. By the time Mr Heath appeared on the scene, last September, the die had been cast. All that was left for him to do was to defend the operation, something he did stoutly, despite the misgivings of many in his own party.
All of which takes us, with a depressing inevitability, to the story of the cull so far. The first thing to be said is that any criticism is not to be taken as any reflection on the work of those on the ground, or in the NFU. They have worked tirelessly, and shown the utmost professionalism. They have demonstrated that it is possible to shoot significant numbers of badgers humanely and safely, often in the face of severe provocation.
But they have also shown that they were asked to do the impossible; that it is simply not feasible, even with the huge resources that the NFU threw at this exercise, and even after a frankly implausible recalibration of the target, to shoot 70% of the badger population over a large area in the space of six weeks.
I do not see any way in which this model of cull can or should be rolled out to other TB hotspot areas next year.
That is not to suggest for one moment that we abandon the fight to control TB in badgers. But there has to be a Plan B, and it has to be based on identifying infected setts (using a mixture of PCR tests and observation) and eliminating as close as possible to 100% of their occupants.
Uninfected setts should be either vaccinated or simply left alone. We know that this approach works, because it is precisely what they did with the "clean ring" strategy which succeeded in reducing TB outbreaks to fewer than 100 a year in the late 1970s.
Gassing with carbon monoxide would probably be the most humane and effective method of control. Failing that, it would have to be a mixture of shooting and trapping.
If, as seems likely, the badger cull ends up on George Eustice's desk at Defra, then I wish him every success. Likewise Dan Rogerson, in his new responsibilities.
But what a reflection it is on how Messrs Cameron & Clegg see agriculture, that farming should have been relegated to just one item in the portfolio of a junior minister.
And we thought it was Labour which could not care less about the countryside.