Farming Update September 2019

Following the decision by Natural England to revoke some wild bird management licences, at short notice, Defra assumed authority for them. The new licences issued by Defra have been confirmed as temporary. A broader review of the General Licences will take place in February 2020.

The EU is proposing to introduce movement testing for TB on all cattle that have not been tested in the previous six months as part of the new Animal Health Law. UK farming unions are opposed to the change claiming it will be of limited benefit.

The tractor market appears to have stabilised after two months of large year-on-year movements likely to have been caused by Brexit preparations. In the first half of the year 6,320 new tractors were registered, a fall of 3% on 2018.

The NFU (E&W) has highlighted the possible adverse effects of a no-deal Brexit for sheep farmers. With 40% of production exported to France the imposition of any tariff is seen as a major threat. Both leadership candidates have promised support for the agricultural industry

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board monitors the amount of British produce put on sale by the major supermarkets. The latest information relates to beef and lamb. Budgens, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons and Waitrose sell 100% British beef in all their stores, with Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda lagging behind. For lamb Morrisons, Co-op and Aldi are at 100% with M&S improving to 99%.

An all-party group of MPs has produced a report calling on the Government to raise the level of ethanol in road fuels from the current 5% to 10%. The introduction of this E10 petrol will improve emissions and be the equivalent of taking 700,000 cars off the road. In addition, it will support the £1bn bioethanol production industry currently struggling because of Government indecision.

An annual report on dairy costings discloses that larger herds, producing 0.5m – 5m litres, increased production by up to 5% last year, whereas smaller herds produced less milk. This trend has been evident for three years with larger herds better financed and less reliant on drought-affected summer grazing.

Export demand for UK soft fruit has risen consistently over the last five years. Last year broke records with a rise of 69% to £22.1m sold to 34 different countries with most going to the Netherland, Spain and Republic of Ireland.

A recent conference sought to encourage growers to go organic citing 40% lower costs, giving good margins. The UK is 30% self-sufficient in organic cereals which account for only 1.2% of UK production.

The Government intends to publish details of a new National Food Strategy, next year. This is the first review of the nation’s food system for 75 years and has been launched to ensure the food industry supports growth, the environment and is resilient to the challenges posed by climate change. Evidence is being gathered from farmers and the public.

UK exports of red meat and offal rose by 13% in volume and 8% in value in the first six months of 2019. Almost half of the £711m worth of exports went to non-EU countries. Pig meat exports to Asia rose by 56% driven by pig disease problems in China and the low value of sterling. The area accounts for 35% of pig meat exports. The EU remains an important market for sheep meat.

The Welsh Government has announced a support scheme for farmers who will not receive their Basic Payment Scheme support payment on the first day it is due, in December. The support payment will be for up to 90% of the anticipated claim and has been welcomed by farming leaders.

Oilseed rape harvest results have been patchy as the planting of next year’s crop gets underway. Poor yields have been attributed to pest damage by the cabbage stem flea beetle which is more prevalent following the ban on neonicotinoid pesticide. However, with prices at over £320/tonne and buoyant markets, alternative crops do not look too attractive.

According to national statistics rural crime rose by 12% in 2018, to £49.9m. Statistics show a rise in most types of crime in most areas of the UK. Much of the rise is due to thefts of farm vehicles and ATVs which rose by 26% and 19% respectively to a total of £10m. Thefts of livestock rose to £2.5m as gangs become more proficient and the number and size of incidents increase.

In December 2018, Defra ordered an immediate ban on slug control products containing metaldehyde based on the alleged detrimental effect on other wildlife. The High Court has now overturned the ban saying the decision was flawed. Farmers have welcomed the decision and wildlife supporters have condemned it.

The Scottish National Texel sheep sale, this month, showed the buoyancy and confidence of the market in this breed with a top price of 200,000gns (£210,000) for a ram lamb. This is the second highest price ever, the record is 220,000gns (£231,000) also for a Texel.

Farmers in Scotland have urged the Home Secretary to prioritise the scheme for seasonal foreign workers, underlining the fact that they occupy full and seasonal posts right across all areas of agriculture, skilled and non-skilled. Current recruiting difficulties are expected to worsen in the spring.

Reproduced with kind permission from NIG FarmWeb