Farming Update March 2019

Defra has released the Farm Business Income estimates for the year ending February 2019. These show that income from cereals rose by 13% but general cropping fell by 8%. Yields were affected by adverse weather conditions, but cereals benefited from higher prices. Dairy incomes were down by 22% and livestock farmers suffered falls of up to 29%.

Further concern is being expressed by UK farmers at potential competition from the USA, post Brexit. The US government has published its “negotiating objectives” calling for” comprehensive access” and the removal of “unwarranted barriers” in an uncompromising document. The USA has long complained about EU bans on its products because of its wider use of chemicals, hormones and GM.

The Ensus bioethanol plant which closed in November last year, due to “difficult market conditions” is to start production again. The closure hit local farmers who were supplying the cereals for production. It is planned to run at reduced capacity to deal with UK orders only. The industry is pressing the government for the introduction of E10 fuel with 10% bioethanol as opposed to the current 5%. The move has been delayed for some years, E10 is the current standard in other EU states.

The cost of livestock worrying to the agricultural industry exceeded £1.2m in 2018. Attacks by dogs remain at historically high levels with farms on urban fringes reporting multiple attacks. Allowing dogs to worry animals is an offence, Scottish farmers are calling for increased penalties after a 67% rise in attacks in two years.

In a bid to cut ground water pollution, Severn Trent has introduced a pesticide amnesty scheme. Disposal of banned and out-of-date chemicals is difficult, so Severn Trent is offering anonymous disposal facilities, to farmers, during March.

Farmers can now employ up to 2,500 non-EU migrant workers under a newly opened seasonal workers pilot scheme. The pilot will run until December 2020 allowing workers to be employed for up to six months. The soft fruit industry, which has grown dramatically in recent years, has been hardest hit by a decline in migrant workers from Europe, criticises the scheme as inadequate.

£5.7m of funding has been allocated to help stamp out BVD, a disease amongst cattle that is estimated to cost the industry over £60m per year in lost performance with 90% of herds having had exposure to it. The campaign will be led by 120 veterinary practices across England covering up to 8,000 farmers.

Singapore is the latest target for UK agricultural exports, post-Brexit, with an increased presence at a recent meat and dairy exhibition. Singapore is already the UK’s largest trading partner in the area with two-thirds of exports, to the region, flowing through it. Dairy exports rose by 55%, last year, to £7.8m with red meat products at £2.7m.

The latest figures on global pig meat exports shows more evidence of the importance of trade with non-EU countries for the sector. Exports to 97 countries grew by £19m to £490m in 2018 continuing a decade of sustained growth with China as the biggest customer. Exports to the EU rose slightly to £24m.

The rapid development of drone technology is making them more attractive to farmers. Drones are particularly effective for monitoring crops and animals and are relatively cheap. However, farmers are warned that they need to be aware of their legal and insurance liabilities when operating drones and how these will change if they carry out work for others on a commercial basis.

A survey of 43 police forces disclosed that there were 381 incidents of sheep rustling in 2018 involving almost 10,000 sheep, a rise of 6% on the previous year. The most worrying aspect was that only one prosecution was brought, by Herefordshire.

A consultation on strategic water planning indicates a shift in Government policy towards regional plans formulated by the stakeholders in the areas, in which farming representatives would play a part. Farming leaders have expressed concern at a proposal that water abstraction licences could be revoked, without compensation, if the environment was at risk.

Reproduced with kind permission from NIG FarmWeb