January

The implications of CAP reform were the question on everyone’s lips at the start of the year – was it all bad news or were there opportunities? It seemed like the former in England, when producers were told payments would not arrive until February 2006 at the earliest.

“The Environment Agency has said it is the worst flooding since 1820.” Carlisle farmer Alastair Wannop after storms battered the north west.

“During the past two years, dairy producers have experienced cost increases on all essential inputs.” Tim Brigstocke, Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers chairman, on the need for milk price increases.

February

The issue of food security hit the headlines after trade figures showed a 12% decline over a decade in the UK’s self-sufficiency in meat and fresh vegetables.
DEFRA was then accused of undermining the promotion of British food by over-zealous enforcement of EU state aid rules.

“This legislation is based on prejudice and bigotry, rather than any logical attempt to improve animal welfare.” Simon Hart, Countryside Alliance chief executive, about the hunt ban.

“Some farmers have had to wait up to three weeks for the collection of dead animals, and there are huge variations in charges.” Farmers Union of Wales president Gareth Vaughan on problems with the Fallen Stock Scheme.

March

DEFRA launched its Entry Level Stewardship Scheme with the bold claim that it marked a new era for farming and the environment. The scheme was warmly welcomed until significant problems with the application process emerged. Scotland also opened its Land Management Contracts scheme.

“It is difficult to conclude that this audit has been anything other than a waste of time.” NFU Scotland president John Kinnaird after a report concluded that retailers were complying with the Supermarket Code of Practice.

“Over 1.7bn of public money is spent on CAP payments, so the public does have a strong interest in knowing where it is spent.” DEFRA’s explanation for publishing details of support payments.

April

Farmers found it impossible to get queries about the Single Payment Scheme answered, because the Rural Payments Agency’s helpline was so busy. The RPA apologised and promised to increase staff numbers, but farmers still reported great difficulty in getting the answers they needed.

“By including the flag the logo now tells people more clearly where their food comes from.” David Clarke, Assured Food Standards, on the relaunch of the Red Tractor logo.

May

After the General Election, Farmers Weekly delivered to DEFRA a list of the 10 farming issues that producers wanted the government to tackle. The list was based on survey results which showed producers were most concerned about red tape and the power imbalance between buyers and suppliers.

“The level of frustration is rising by the day.” A consultant describes how farmers were feeling on the approach to the SFP application deadline.

“We are dismayed to find this situation, especially after Wales’s agri-environment schemes have been flagged as the best in Europe.” Peredur Hughes, NFU Cymru president, about proposed cuts to Tir Gofal payments.

June

Milk processor Arla provoked anger when it announced that it was slicing 0.35p/litre off its milk price. Farm leaders were furious, warning that it would lead other companies to cut prices. They were right – Wiseman, Milk Link, Dairy Farmers of Britain and Dairy Crest soon followed suit.

“The confusing graphics and in particular the lack of wind speed and direction details, will be a big disadvantage for us farmers.” A farmer vents his fury after the BBC redesigned its weather maps.

“I will stand up for farmers as best as I can, because I think they contribute a great deal to the way we live now.” Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach shortly after his appointment.

July

Farmers started to wonder whether the introduction of the single farm payment had been a bad dream, because all the press could talk about was the need for CAP reform. EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel was forced to launch a spirited defence of the policy during her visit to the Royal Show.

“The price cuts suggested would cripple beet growing in this country.” Nick Wells, NFU sugar board vice-chairman, about the EU’s sugar reform proposals.

August

Livestock farmers took to the streets to urge consumers to shun Brazilian beef. Protests took place in Scotland and Northern Ireland, after a period where UK prices fell well below the costs of production. Producers pointed out Brazilian beef did not meet the same standards as British beef.

“It is with great pride that the beef-producing industry can cast off the shackles of a decade of trade restrictions.” Meurig Raymond, NFU vice-president, on the news that the over-30-month scheme would end.

September

A survey commissioned for the first issue of the new-look Farmers Weekly revealed two-thirds of young farmers intend to take over the family farm at some point. It also suggested that many of those not planning to stay in the industry would change their minds if there was less red tape.

“The science is very uncertain. That makes the case for further research – not further regulations.” NFU Scotland’s crop committee chairman David Houghton dismisses the need for tighter spray controls after a report on pesticides and bystanders.

October

Poultry farmers were urged to step up biosecurity measures as part of efforts to keep the country free of avian flu. Concern was expressed about the disease, because of the fear that it could trigger a human flu pandemic, if the virus mutated into a form capable of human-to-human transmission.

“We are astonished that the Biomass Task Force is rejecting the Renewable Heat Obligation model.” Mark Hudson, Country Land and Business Association, expresses disappointment with a report on the future of biomass.

November

A review of the levy bodies, by economist Rosemary Radcliffe, concluded that statutory levies should remain for at least two years, but the bodies should be reformed to make them more accountable. Farmers have since been asked to contribute to a consultation which closes on 3 February.

“We have listened to our members, who have told us that we have got to withhold food.” FFA chairman David Handley justifies his three-day food strike.

“We have reasonable grounds to investigate certain milk retail price initiatives that may have been in breach of the Competition Act.” The Office of Fair Trading explains its milk industry probe.

December

DEFRA announced that it would consult on the principle of a badger culling policy in TB hotspots, but added farmers must comply with stricter cattle controls including pre-movement testing in infected areas. The government also confirmed that it would introduce a new compensation scheme.

“I hope that the heavy-handedness is a few RPA inspectors being over-zealous.” Tim Bennett, NFU president, on cross-compliance inspections.