Farming ‘Concern and dismay’ over current market situation

What a difference a few days of good weather can make to the spirits of the farming community.

After months of cold weather through the spring and early summer – and the coldest Royal Highland Show two weeks ago I can ever remember – the long-promised heat wave has at last reached us this week.

The countryside has greened up and silage crops, although not bulky, have been better than many farmers dared hope earlier in the month. With any buffer of silage from last year already used up because of the delay in getting cattle turned out, farmers will be looking for a bumper second cut of silage to see them through the winter.

How cereals crops will shape up in the next few weeks remains to be seen. The expectation is that yields will be average at best and straw could be in short supply. Farmers are bracing themselves to be hit by a double whammy of low yields and low prices with the increase in world-wide stocks of grain likely to keep a brake on any firming of prices.

Little wonder that the presidents of the four UK farmers’ unions held a crisis meeting in Birmingham where “deep concern and dismay” was expressed over the current market situation for almost every product farmers produce.

The main concern is the pressure that price volatility is causing farmers and the low prices being experienced across all sectors.

“We are presently in the trough of extreme volatility,” said NFU Scotland president, Allan Bowie. “It is essential that all within the supply chain recognise this and act responsibly in order to support British farmers who provide the safe, affordable and quality food that consumers want to see on supermarket shelves.”

He added: We are calling on the major retailers to act responsibly at this difficult time and back up their commitments to British agriculture. Now is the time to deliver on the promises they have made.”

As an example, Mr Bowie said he found it “incomprehensible” that significant volumes of New Zealand lamb can still be found on retail shelves when we are in the peak season of British supply and lamb prices are falling.

Cash flow is under pressure on many farms and nowhere is this more striking than in the dairy industry, where the ex-farm price of milk is way below cost of production for most dairy farmers. The news that the Russian trade embargo is being extended by a further year will only increase the pressure on this hard-pressed sector.

Mr Bowie said it was essential that EU support from farmers – worth around £500 million a year to the industry – was paid timeously in December but this may be a forlorn hope given the delays and problems being experienced in implementing the complex reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy introduced this year.

Turning to an equally important subject, next week is Farm Safety Week and NFU Scotland, working in conjunction with Farm Safety Partnership Scotland, will be highlighting on a daily basis throughout the week the measures farmers can take to ensure the safety of themselves and their employees.

Farmers will be encouraged to take five minutes each day to assess the safety of routine tasks on the farm so that they don’t learn safety by accident. Survivors of real farming accidents – including Andrew Moir from Thornton, Laurencekirk, who fell off a ladder two years go – will be driving home the message by telling their stories.

Mr Moir suffered concussion, a broken nose and bone in his left arm, dislocated fingers and a shattered knee cap. He spent eight days in hospital followed by a full year of rehabilitation and says the experience had a “huge effect” on his business.

“The accident came as a shock to me and was entirely preventable,” he now says.

The toll of deaths and injuries on farms is tragic. Over the past decade, 80 men, women and children have died in Scotland as a result of farm accidents and many more have been badly injured.

Fatalities include 13 as a result of falling when working at heights, nine in incidents involving livestock, 26 by overturning vehicles or being struck by a moving vehicle and six as a result of coming into contact with working machinery or equipment.

This is not a record to be proud of and every farmer should take the opportunity next week to check on their own procedures to eliminate the risk of accidents on their own farm adding to the toll.