Grain merger: Is it good news?

 The planned merger between Allied Grain and Banks Cargill could, on the face of it, be bad news for UK farmers. The new giant will trade more than 4m tonnes of combinable crops a year, reducing the choice still further for sellers of grain.

Where once there was a plethora of trading companies to deal with, there are now just four majors and a clutch of local firms left. Does it matter? Probably not – the grain market, far from being fixable by a cartel of UK-based traders, is a multinational, transparent affair.

Farmers should fear the vagaries of the world market far more than this latest consolidation. In fact, a bigger, better informed, more streamlined company should be able to offer farmers a better marketing service for less cost. If it doesn”t, there is still enough competition hungry for business.

Be prepared for the ramblers

The countryside is still a place of tranquillity – but for how much longer?

As ramblers increasingly assert their rights, farm parks welcome the public and the Countryside Rights of Way Act open up new areas of Britain, it’s getting busier.

Increased access to the countryside promotes farming”s image but brings new risks. What happens if a walker trips on a stone and tries to sue you? Will your insurance cover you?

The answers to these and other similar questions are complex and technical. So, our Insurance Special this year takes an in-depth look at access and public liability insurance matters. It may not answer all your questions, but it should clear the fog.

More Europe, less money?

Agreeing a new financial framework for the period 2007 to 2013 is one of the key tasks confronting Brussels in the next six months.

Discussions are well under way, with net contributors such as Germany and the UK wanting to see spending restricted to just 1% of gross national income, down from 1.14%.

This could have drastic implications for agricultural support. Not only would it jeopardise many of the measures planned for rural development, it could also lead to cuts in the new single farm payment, making it harder for farmers to deliver the environmental services society demands.

As commission president Jose Manuel Barroso says: “More Europe with less money is not possible”.

Sweeper robots for cleaner cows

What price lameness? It costs the dairy industry up to £182 a cow each year, says equipment maker Lely.

Treatment accounts for the largest part. But preventative measures will be the most effective in easing the problem. Keeping cattle clean and free from ankle-deep slurry pays off.

Frequently used standing areas and passageways should be scraped clean four or five times a day. Automated scraper systems can help but can be costly. Could robots provide the answer?

Cow movement is parlour key

Renovate or replace? What’s the best answer when it comes to planning the expansion of your dairy herd?

Progress through the collecting yard and exit route can have a big impact on throughput.

Improving cow flow could help economise on the size of parlour needed. And for those who really do need a new parlour to grow economies of scale, considering cow flow first could help determine location.

Make the most of the spud levy

Thank goodness the British Potato Council has no plans to increase its levy. That’s provided it remains in place following the government review of its function.

Efforts to reduce costs should also be welcomed, particularly in the key area of collecting the levy. At present the system is inefficient.

If the BPC is to continue, it needs to be seen to be as lean and fit as the industry it supports.

Farm families pull together

Farming families know how to pull together: Not least in the plucking shed before Christmas.

Farmers across Britain are benefiting from the help of sons, daughters and other relatives, who use precious leave from off-farm jobs to help meet the seasonal orders.

British farming is still mainly a family affair and that’s something worth toasting as we sit down to Christmas lunch next week.