Farming Update – September 2018

A roadworthiness check on agricultural vehicles, by Hertfordshire police, showed that of the 19 vehicles tested only two had no defects and two were deemed unsafe to continue their journey. The check came after a number of incidents in the county involving agricultural vehicles resulting in disruption to the road network.

A major deal has been struck to export seed potatoes to China which is the largest global consumer of potatoes. UK seed potatoes are renowned for their quality and the export market is currently worth £90m to UK growers. The deal will benefit Scottish farmers, in particular, as 70% of exports presently come from Scottish farms.

The publication of a series of technical papers relating to a no-deal Brexit has raised concerns in various sectors. The pig industry says the present £208m export market to the EU would be at risk and beef and sheep farmers, across the UK, have expressed worries over potential added regulatory processes for EU imports and exports. Organic products could not be freely exported to the EU until a certification process was in place. The process could take nine months and cannot start until the UK leaves the EU.

A survey by the University of Edinburgh shows that one-third of fruit and vegetables are discarded before they reach supermarket shelves. This equates to 50m tonnes across Europe. The reasons are government regulation, supermarket high standards and customer perceptions of what the produce should look like. However, an increasing number of schemes to promote “wonky” produce are proving successful.

Changes to the legislation on farm tenancy were suggested by a Government panel, last year. No action was taken, and tenant farmers are now urging that they be included in the forthcoming Agriculture Bill that will set out agriculture policy post-Brexit. However, the Government seems lukewarm on the idea.

The milk processor, Arla, is to hold its price, to producers, in September whilst several smaller processors have announced increases. The industry price for milk is now around 29/30p per litre.

The Food and Drink Federation has highlighted its reliance on EU workers by disclosing that 117,000 are employed in the sector. This amounts to almost one-third of the workforce.

The biofuel producer, Vivergo, has announced that it is to cease production at its plant in East Yorkshire at the end of September. The plant employs 150 people and was a market for 1.1m tonnes of wheat from 900 farms across Yorkshire. The closure is blamed on the Government’s dithering over a long-term policy for renewable fuels despite promises of a “greener” economy post-Brexit.

The Government has announced a two-year pilot scheme to allow non-EU seasonal workers to work on farms starting in spring 2019. Visas will be valid for six months allowing up to 2,500 workers to come to the UK. The scheme will be closely monitored to ensure workers return home when their visa expires. The announcement has been widely welcomed by farmers and growers whilst they plan for a solution in the longer term.

The French Government has taken a major step towards protecting the country’s declining bee population by banning the use of all neonicotinoid pesticides. The current EU position is a partial ban covering three of the five neonicotinoids and allowing some use in greenhouses. The French are convinced that the evidence against the pesticides is over-whelming, but farmers and growers have criticised the decision.

The Agriculture Bill has been published outlining the future of UK farming, post-Brexit. Direct subsidies will continue much the same as present, for two years but will then be phased out by 2027. The new scheme will reward measures to improve the environment, benefit the public, invest in technology and increase productivity. The current system of payments is based on the amount of land farmed with the top 10% of recipients receiving almost 50% of total payments. The Bill has had a mixed reception from farmers and environmentalists.

British Sugar has warned that this year’s harvest is set to be much lower than last year. The acreage is largely unaltered but the wet spring and dry summer means that yields will be lower than last year’s record.

A recent sale of Texel ram lambs highlighted the buoyancy of the sector with the top priced animals selling for £105,000, £31,500 and £25,200.

Badger culling is now underway across many of the 21 authorised zones in England. In addition, another ten zones will be authorised shortly. Defra is confident that the cull will have a positive effect in driving down the numbers of cattle infected with TB.