Farming Update February 2019

Farmers are being advised to consider growing miscanthus as an alternative crop in the light of future uncertainties. The crop is grown under contract and is used to fire renewable energy power stations supported by long-term government grants. Miscanthus grows well on poorer soils with minimum care and is harvested in the spring before the main cereal harvests.

The latest figures for farmland sales in England, in 2018, show that prices ranged from £4,575 to £15,000 an acre, affected as much by location, as quality. Arable land generally sold for between £8,000 and £10,000 an acre with average prices up by 2% on 2017. Farmers accounted for less than 50% of purchases with strong demand from investors and life-style buyers.

The global organic dairy market accounts for 20% of all organic food and drink sales and is forecast to grow by 50% over the next four years. In the UK demand has risen 3.1% year-on-year and the sector is a net exporter. This contrasts with the non-organic market where the UK remains a major importer.

The total income from farming in Scotland fell by 8% to £672m in 2018, according to the latest estimates from the Scottish Government. The figures also show a rise in costs of 5% and a fall in productivity for the third consecutive year.

The number of dairy herds, in Scotland, fell by 27 to 891 in 2018. This mirrors the trend in England and Wales. There were 5,735 herds, in Scotland, when records began in 1903. However, animal numbers have risen leading to an increase in the average herd size to 201.

The autumn 2018 planting of oilseed rape has had mixed success with 6.28% of the crop failing to establish. This equates to 36,000 hectares and compares to a failure rate of 1.62% for 2017. Southern areas have fared worst with lack of moisture and increased pest damage cited as the reasons. The latter made worse by the ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments.

The budget for Natural England has fallen from £242m to £100m in the last decade with staff numbers reduced from 2,500 to 1,500. The agency is struggling to maintain its role in overseeing environmental schemes and National Parks. Farmers complain of delays in stewardship payments and a lack of staff to give advice.

Recent data shows over 153,000 small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in agriculture, forestry and fishing making up 9% of the UK total. SMEs account for over 50% of total revenue and 60% of private sector employment.

Agricultural Insurers are urging farmers to support the Red Tractor assurance scheme post-Brexit as a guarantee of quality and welfare standards. There is a need to protect the UK market against imports of goods that are sub-standard in terms of quality and welfare. There is concern about competition from the USA which is at odds with the UK on the use of GM, antibiotics and chemical sprays. Defra has said that a “zero-tariff” regime on food imports will not happen and protection for the industry will continue.

The UK organic produce market grew by 5.3% in 2018 to a record level of £2.33bn, accounting for over 1.5% of the total market. The results mark the seventh consecutive year of growth after some years of stagnation. However, the UK market lags behind other European countries where organic accounts for up to 10% of the market.

The British Veterinary Association is lobbying for improvements to animal welfare before, during and after movement. Animals should be slaughtered as close as possible to their home farm with mobile abattoirs servicing remote areas. Animals should not be exported to countries where the welfare standards are unknown or where they are lower than the UK.

An insurance product has been launched that offers farmers the opportunity to insure against financial loss caused by a fall in the price of major commodities or a rise in the cost of some inputs. The cover, called Stable, is placed at Lloyds.

Defra has issued guidance on the changes that are likely to occur to animal imports and exports in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The UK will become a “third country” and export health certificates will be needed. Defra is confident that the system will be in place before Brexit. The arrangements are of real concern to the sheep industry with around 30% of production exported, over 90% to EU countries.

Milk volumes in several European countries are lower than last year which has led to the market being relatively stable in the first part of this year. Against this background, Arla has announced that prices to its producers will remain unchanged for March.

There is a proposal in the Agriculture Bill for the phasing out of the direct Basic Payment, for it to be de-linked from the requirement to farm the land and for landowners to take the money as a one-off cash sum. Preliminary figures suggest the payment could be up to three times the annual amount, but further details are needed from Defra.

Reproduced with kind permission from NIG FarmWeb