Wheat and barley prices have fallen over a cliff since July and, as I write, milk prices are dropping on a weekly basis, blamed by the processors mainly on the actions of the Russians over Ukraine and an increasing withdrawal of Chinese buying from the dairy produce market. Rumours abound that salad crops and potatoes appear to be less attractive to grow. Beef cattle prices have been in the doldrums since last winter, due to cheap imports from Ireland and Poland, although in fairness prices are now showing welcome signs of improvement.
An example of our home problems is highlighted by the supermarkets’ efforts to give milk away. Tesco started the ball rolling, cutting the price of four pint packs back to £1 with their assurance: “These cuts won’t affect the price paid to the dairy farmers.” And yet the price of a litre of milk tumbles from around 33 pence per litre in the early summer to a predicted 26/27ppl as we prepare to enter what will be a long winter. Maybe even lower by the new year, for anyone still left standing.
To rub salt into sore wounds the public seem perfectly happy to pay more than £1 for a litre bottle of so called natural water, spring water, call it what you will. So why is milk, with all its nutritional value, being virtually given away? Almost everyone you ask seems happy to pay more for their pints: the public generally appear to recognise it is very cheap, so why do the big stores continue to undersell it? One wonders to what extent this is all due to their panic over the rise of Lidl and Aldi rather than Russia?
The inevitable effects of these issues bring escalating depression and a shadow over agriculture, an industry which many of us had rather hoped was recovering from a pretty poor run and due a period of sustained firmer returns.
Of more concern is the lack of any relationship between the value of our products and our input prices. Apart from animal feed prices, which are largely a result of the dropping prices of UK cereals, the cost of our inputs appear to rise inexorably. I can only speak from our own experience but the extortionate asking price of items as diverse as silage additive and herbicides/fungicides in particular is staggering. They appear not based on anything other than the companies involved ensuring they maintain their margins. Margins of which farmers generally have little recent knowledge, since most don’t have them. The only margin for too many is the difference after bills are paid/money received each month, too often a negative margin, leading many to go cap in hand to their lenders just to be able to continue trading. Surely many do wonder why we continue to take the pain! Yes, of course, it’s the way of life!
A bright spot is the news Deathra have rolled on the badger cull policy – so determinedly started by Owen Paterson – with a second year of culling now under way. It was good the new minister, Elizabeth Truss, had the courage to push this forward, given the pressure put on her by the immensely vociferous, politically influenced groups of badger lovers. These groups are empowered by their seemingly limitless charity backed funds and online supporters.
Farmers are obviously concerned with instability in political circles. Building up to next May’s elections, we could well end up with the cull being sabotaged by these luvvies and their bedfellows on the soft centre/left, who have absolutely no concern for the wellbeing of the country or the countryside. They’re probably not paying taxes either, with no apparent need to work.
They don’t appear to appreciate we farmers simply want healthy wildlife and healthy cattle. No one wants to wipe out badgers as a species but they must be healthy. The alternative to a cull? Things will likely be taken into the countryside’s own hands and badgers will turn up in even larger numbers dead on the sides of the public highways.
The dry spell in September brought the maize on apace and with the contractors looking for work they found an unexpected slot for us on 17/18 September which saw a really well cobbed and ripened crop, clamped and sheeted by the 19 September. Seeing, in the same week, we were advised of our milk prices through to Christmas it was – particularly given my earlier comments – touch and go if we put additive on. In the end I reluctantly decided we were losing so much on the milk job, what was another thousand or so.
There is no doubt it does preserve the crop and stops moulding but with the financial constraints following this prospective drop of over 6.5ppl in the offing, it is a decision I made with some difficulty. It will be the last year we use it if the manufacturers don’t accept their product is grossly overpriced and do something about it. It may be one isolated input but they all add up.
How satisfying that the rump of the Scottish population have defied their bullying ex rabble rousing leader and displayed our northern cousins’ well known national good sense. So now one hopes everyone can pull together as one nation. It was quite a concern for a few weeks.