Farming Update January 2019

The HSE has reminded farmers that a new series of inspections will begin soon. The safety record in farming remains poor with 33 fatalities in 2017/8. The inspections will include specific attention to the risks associated with machinery, livestock, falls from height and children.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board is launching a new series of “Country Focus Reports” to highlight opportunities for exports. Initial reports are on the key markets, USA, China and Japan with the latter announcing a lifting of the ban on beef and sheep meat imports from the UK. The Japanese market is forecast to be worth over £25m annually to UK beef producers.

The Defra Secretary, Michael Gove again insisted that animal welfare and production standards would be defended post-Brexit, at a recent farming conference. However, despite pressure from farming leaders he has declined to include written safeguards in the Agriculture Bill currently going through Parliament.

British milk production rose by 8m litres to 1,040m litres, in December, the highest figure for 20 years and ahead of expectations. Production levels are expected to fall back in coming months due to a 1.6% reduction in the milking herd, rising feed costs and downward pressure on prices.

Defra has announced a ban on the outdoor use of metaldehyde from Spring 2020, to protect water courses and wildlife. The chemical is the most commonly used slug control product for oilseed rape, cereals and potatoes. Despite the ban in the UK, it remains licensed for use in other EU and non-EU countries. Other, more expensive options are available, but growers complain this will put them at a commercial disadvantage.

Various sectors have raised concerns over the proposed £30,000 minimum salary requirement for skilled migrant workers seeking five-year visas. Abattoirs are particularly vulnerable with an average of 75% foreign workers most of whom are skilled but do not reach the proposed minimum wage. Efforts to attract British staff, over the years, have failed.

Defra is to hold a consultation on changes to agricultural tenancy legislation following consideration of the likely impact of Brexit by a cross industry group. Changes to the 1986 and 1995 Acts governing tenancies are recommended together with a reform of taxation and other measures.

The Government’s new clean air strategy is set to impact on farmers. Agriculture is responsible for 88% of UK ammonia gas emissions which can be harmful to human health. Rules will be introduced relating to the safer storage and use of urea-based fertilisers, slurry and manure. Financial and practical help for farmers has been promised. The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers has criticised the proposals forecasting that they will force many small farmers out of business.

The Rural Payments Agency paid out 93.4% of claims under the Basic Payments Scheme in December totalling £1.57bn. This is an improvement on the 91% paid out in 2017. Industry related insurers have called for bridging payments to be made to the 5,000+ farmers still waiting for their money and for action to clear old claims still outstanding after several years.

There are signs that the dairy market may be firming up again despite price reductions to producers in January. Stocks of skimmed milk powder held in intervention are expected to be cleared next month with prices up by 7%. This is forecast to have a positive impact on prices for fresh milk, a view supported by Arla which has announced that prices to producers will be unchanged for February.

The Livestock Information Service is due to be launched this year and will provide the foundation for world-leading traceability. Electronic IDs will contain medical information and track animal movement across the country. The Service will enhance animal health and welfare and food safety.

The number of new tractors registered in the UK during 2018 was 12,100. The figure is slightly up on 2017 and the highest number for four years. Growth is primarily at the top end of the power range with the average power of tractors continuing to increase each year.

A House of Lords committee has expressed concern over the regulation of the chemical industry post-Brexit saying that Defra needs to do more. The sector which has a turnover of £32bn currently operates under an EU agency and is crucial for agriculture and other industries.

UK sugar production is expected to reach 1.15m tonnes, slightly ahead of forecast. This is less than the record 1.37m tonnes achieved last year, yields have been lower, but the sugar content is higher.