News From The Farming Market – December 2017

A recent newspaper article outlined the extent of the farming enterprise of Sir James Dyson. Through Beeswax Dyson Farming Ltd he owns 33,000 acres making it the largest farming enterprise in the country. The farming is high on technology with widespread use of drones and self-drive tractors and machinery. Small agricultural robots, now being tested, are forecast to replace large tractors with major savings in costs.

A Parliamentary committee has issued a report on livestock worrying by dogs after complaints of an apparent rise in the problem. With no official statistics available, Sheepwatch UK estimate that up to 15,000 sheep may have been killed by dogs in 2016 at cost to farmers of £1.3m. In the same period, at least 49 dogs are reported to have been shot whilst worrying sheep. Over 600 attacks were also reported on horses and cattle.

Following lengthy technical negotiations the UK is set to increase exports of pork to China. Outside of the EU, China is already the UK’s largest export market taking 40,000 tonnes of pork and 36,000 tonnes of offal in 2016. The latest initiative will major on the export of those cuts, such as pig’s trotters, which are much less popular in the UK and is evidence of the widening trade links between the two countries.

The Government has relaunched the £60m Community Housing Fund to boost the number of affordable homes in the countryside. The Fund was originally launched in 2016 and has had some success in addressing the questions of availability and affordability of rural houses.

The EU has finally agreed to renew the licence for the herbicide, glyphosate, but only for five years and less than three weeks before the current licence expires. The original proposals of fifteen years and then ten years failed to get the qualified majority support that was needed. Farmers across Europe are critical of the decision blaming it more on politics than science.

The Welsh Government’s agricultural survey shows a labour force of 51,943 at 1st June 2017, of whom 23% were employees. This is the lowest figure for twenty years and reflects the situation across the UK with increased technology replacing labour.

The Defra Secretary has called the EU CAP “inefficient, ineffective and inequitable”. As a first step to simplification and tuning it more to UK farming Defra is to launch a revised, streamlined, Countryside Stewardship Scheme in January in advance of a new Agriculture Bill later in the year.

The French Government has stated that it will, unilaterally, ban the use of the weed killer glyphosate within three years, Italy has indicated that it will follow suit. Use of glyphosate was relicensed, by the EU, for five years, last month, with both France and Italy voting against.

In a shock move, Muller has announced a steep cut of 1.5p/litre in the price it pays to its farmer milk producers. Muller blames the fall in the price of butter and cream, in the UK, over the last few months. Meadow Foods, a large independent processor, is to cut its price by 1.25p per litre and First Milk has said it will hold its price, for the moment, despite the downward pressure in the market.

Major bioethanol producer, Vivero, has announced the suspension of operations at its plant in East Yorkshire due to “poor market conditions and legislative uncertainty”. The £350m facility was opened in 2012 and at full production, in 2014, was meeting half of the UK demand for bioethanol and producing high quality animal feed as a by-product. The 900 farmers supplying it will need to seek other markets for their wheat.

Farmers are warned that they may become targets of HMRC in the crackdown on “mid-size businesses and wealthy individuals” outlined by Budget documents. The target is to recoup £300m in taxes over the next six years by increased technology and resources.

As part of its promise to deliver a green Brexit, the Government has published a Bill to strengthen animal welfare including a recognition of animal sentience. The Bill also raises the penalties for animal cruelty. The Bill goes further than the current EU rules and is aimed at maintaining the UK as a world leader in animal welfare, post Brexit.

The EU has delayed a vote on extending the ban on neonicotinoids until early in 2018. A partial ban is currently in force and UK farmers allege that up to 10% of the oilseed rape crop could have been lost because of it. There is evidence that the chemical has an adverse effect on pollinators and the UK Government is in favour of a total ban.

The Government is considering further controls on the export of live animals, post Brexit. Whilst exports have fallen dramatically over the years, to around 50,000 animals, mainly sheep, present EU rules prevent any further restrictions being imposed. Any change is likely to impact on trade between Northern and Southern Ireland.

Reproduced with kind permission from NIG FarmWeb