Winter wheat likely to be well down for the year

As this summer progresses all too quickly, there are varying degrees of pessimism and optimism being voiced regarding the current and indeed the future state of British agriculture.

The NFU (Nation Farmers Union) took a poll of members recently which suggested that the area of cereals, winter wheat in particular, for the 2013 harvest is on course to be down 29 per cent on last year.

There are predictions that the national yield could be as low as 11millions tonnes, (last year it was around 13m tonnes), compared to the 16m tonnes the country has produced in recent years.

The Farmers Guardian reports that experts at the Cereals 2013 Event agreed that the expected harvest will result in the UK being a net importer of cereals.

This is not good news for livestock producers who rely upon cereals for feed and imports inevitably mean more costly grain.

However it is also predicted that there will be record grain crops globally which will result in a downward pressure on global prices which is bad news for arable farmers.

So depending upon where in the country one farms and how badly the weather has effected crops, many arable farmers will be feeling the pinch if the price they realise for their grain falls. Livestock farmers are already paying a high price for concentrates and the future for them does not look exactly rosy unless meat prices rise significantly.

NFU President Peter Kendall has once again clashed swords with Farming Minister David Heath. He suggested that the government is pursing ‘right wing ideology’ on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform in the belief that less money will make farmers more competitive.

Mr Kendall along with many farmers who have also tried, do not seem to be getting the message through to either David Heath or Owen Paterson that English farmers will be significantly disadvantaged compared to their main EU competitors if the money goes to pillar two.

It is unclear why Defra ministers are so determined to disadvantage the farmers they are clearly in Parliament to represent. They are both keen to see funding go to environmental schemes through the Higher Level Scheme (HLS). The largest claimants of these funds are not farmers but organisations such as the RSBP, The National Trust and county councils. Can this be right?

It is encouraging to hear someone being positive and spotting a silver lining in the proverbial cloud when everyone else is being gloomy. In this case it is Sir Don Curry a trustee of the Prince’s Countryside Fund (PCF). Sir Don who recently spoke to the Farmer’s Guardian at the House of Commons, said that the lasting effects of the recent weather crises, which had left many businesses on the brink of collapse, may have brought opportunities for young people to start farming.

He added that the fallout from this crises could for some farmers be ‘worse than foot and mouth’.

Sir Don believes there is an opportunity to restructure the industry and encourage young people to work in businesses which are no longer viable, where farmers are overstretched or out of capital reserves. This could be the chance to find an opening.

Over the past year the PCF Trust has handed out over £525,000 in hardship grants - £50,000 of which was donated by the public. Sir Don considers there is still a need to raise a further half a million pounds to support farmers who are still in trouble.

Unlike those affected by Foot and Mouth who received compensation, those suffering from the current weather induced crises do not. The Trust will also provide strategic advice to famers to avoid supporting unviable businesses but help to create a successful future for the farm.

Sir Don was one of the authors of Farming and Food a Sustainable Future, a report published in 2002 post the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak. I have recently re-read this document and some eleven years on it still makes interesting reading.

The title Farming and Food I always considered to be somewhat misleading considering the message was that farmers should primarily be good stewards of the environment, and secondly provide good food and a healthy diet for people in England and around the world!

At the beginning there is a quote by Dwight Eisenhower “farming seems mighty easy when your plough is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles away from the cornfield”. I would suggest that certain farming ministers should take note.

As we anticipate a poor harvest and every week yet another livestock farmer gives up in despair, and when food security is increasingly a concern, perhaps a little more common sense should be adopted by government ministers.

Surely they should be encouraging farmers to increase food production rather than become mere park keepers. The global population is growing and British farmers are amongst the best and most efficient but we must receive a fair farm gate price and we need a level playing field with overseas producers. It would help if government ministers were on our side.

Corola Godman Irvine