So another harvesting year is reaching its conclusion with only maize (of the grain crops) to be harvested in the South and with new seeds already in the ground for next year.
This next cycle could be one that few farmers young or old are really fully prepared for, simply because none of us has any true idea of the coming couple of years. One fears they will not be like any we ourselves have seen.
Fortunately ministers seem, at long last, to have decided that pulling together to make the best of delivering the wishes of the majority in last year’s referendum is their best way forward. Nevertheless the majority of farmers, while fully supportive of the referendum result, remain unsure what course to take, what crops to plant for 2018 or, in some cases, whether to even plant anything while the basic payment scheme remains available as a fallback for another couple of years.
What concerns many is the plethora of fake news still being pushed by some remainers. OK it may be tricky for a bit but to be in charge of our own destiny and country, free of Europe’s unelected beurocrats once again, surely has to make it worthwhile.
Perhaps dairy farmers, or those of us who still retain some enthusiasm for the job, are the only ones who can make plans because they at least know they will need grass for grazing and maize for silage, so life can continue pretty much unchanged. They presently have some encouragement that milk prices are likely to sustain farm incomes, at least until next spring when the shenanigans of our buyers and the supermarkets again make a nonsense of farmers budgeting as the supermarkets protect their own profits at our expense.
A similar situation is facing cereal growers who continue to see prices still (like milk) barely covering inputs and, even then, left at the discretion (if that’s the word to use!) of grain buyers, whose tradition of ignoring earlier offers made on inspected samples continues as they seek to offer yet another excuse for deductions on their agreed price once the grain is on their lorry. All this after you have sprayed extortionately priced chemicals almost from the day the crop was sown, which pretty much takes care of any reasonable expectation of a fair return.
This may sound a tad cynical but having been involved in both these enterprises since the early 1960s, these comments still bear a close relationship to reality. The worry now over new trade arrangements is how quickly things settle when the UK finally pulls up anchor to again make our own way in the world. Do you feel any confidence in trade tie ups with “Tweety” Trump? I fear he is more likely to start world war three (if he hasn’t already) than strike useful trade deals with a small country like ours. What a dangerous man. I also cannot get away from that look in his eyes. I see hate and contempt in a face which would fit well in a Ku Klux Klan hood. All he really knows or likely cares about the UK is how many golf courses he owns here.
Farm support, in whatever form, has filled me with bad vibes since my youth simply because I have always seen it as a subsidy for the end buyer/housewife at the expense of the prime producer, devaluing UK produce. The system has filled the pockets of the middlemen since its inception. Since the Milk Marketing Board was abolished, at Mrs Thatcher’s behest, these people have manipulated the markets ruthlessly for their own benefit. In times of demand for milk and other products, the most ruthless buyers delay passing the benefit back to producers for months after they themselves have reaped the rewards from rising markets. In times of glut, they cut these prices to producers at the very first opportunity. Or, as in the past two years, the worst offenders (and everyone knows who they are) have changed their buying terms and invoked swingeing, unnegotiated, penalties/conditions with no comeback for unprotected producers.
Government appointed ombudsmen have paid lip service to the problem but they are usually perceived to be in the same nest with the perpetrators, so nothing happens. Big business always wins. Small farms and rural communities always suffer.
Other elements in farmers’ various income streams cause further ripples. From experience we have seen this recently in the demand for supplies of green crops for anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. These plants use huge quantities of fodder beet, rye and maize.
A year or two back we were able to be confident any surplus maize would find a rewarding home with local AD plants. But now this situation is thrown into some doubt, either with cereal growers diversifying into these crops due to their own lack of profits; or with the news one local AD plant has reportedly run somewhat foul of the planning agreements they were originally granted permission to operate under and, very recently, gone into administration. One has to be careful about assuming anything in cases like this but one hopes their administrators will have a plan B.
This will affect local farmers significantly as we have to be planning our own cropping programmes well ahead, since there is no point planting in anticipation only to be advised the crops are not required after other options have expired. This is particularly so when growing and harvesting an acre of maize can costs upwards of £650 inclusive, if you include the handling /spreading of farmyard manure. So clearly you need a guaranteed home and price for the crop well before you put it in the ground. Happily we do have an agreement with another buyer which gives me some confidence we have a good home this year for any crop we cannot fit into the silage clamp.