25 February 2000

CO-OPERATE TO ACCUMULATE

SURVIVAL of the fittest has long been the law of the jungle. And in the jungle that is todays global market for farm produce it is a law UK farmers ignore at their peril.

Growing for the market was the issue of the nineties. Now surviving the market is the issue of the new millennium. Growing what the market wants and more importantly growing it at a price the world market is prepared to pay is the goal of every farm in the land.

But on cost at least we are failing. Our initial lead stemming from large, efficient, well-run farms backed by good husbandry is no longer enough. Overseas producers are stealing our markets. As the protection of EU aid dwindles harsh world market forces are being felt ever more keenly.

A strong pound and a weak Euro are partly to blame. A government content to consign farming to the scrap heap of post-industrial Britain adds to the difficulty.

Worse still is the severely distorted playing field that same government is dealing us. While withholding EU financial aid designed to compensate for the strong pound it continues to hit farmers with environmental and bureaucratic burdens none of our key competitors endure.

To cap it all the food industry itself persists in hampering farmers with a food assurance scheme that adds cost, but no real benefit. And lower quality imports continue to flood in unchecked.

So the playing field slopes against us. What of it? Protest by all means. Lobby your MP, your NFU representative and your local supermarket. Your future depends upon a wider realisation that Britains farming is changing beyond recognition.

But that can only be half the battle. While arguments rage in favour of some form of rural support, change must continue at home.

Seeking non-farming income through carefully planned diversifications and jobs away from the farm can help too. But something far more radical is now needed.

Galling as it may be the most powerful message could come from our overseas competitors. They do not compete with each other – they compete with foreign growers.

For them the enemy is the producer of every tonne of imported wheat, every foreign potato and every litre of vegetable oil. Rather than accept imports they are bent on supplying their home and export markets with low cost, quality produce grown on their own farms.

Together they unite to share men, machinery, advice, agronomy and marketing skills. By working together they slash production costs, creating efficiencies of scale without compromising their individuality.

UK farmers must follow suit to survive. United this industry can stand – divided it will surely see many more farm businesses fall.

Managing early-drilled crops 4

Regional arable prospects 6

Tailored growth regulators 10

Why support is needed 12

Precision drilled wheat 14

Care with beet area cuts 15

Biotech wheat still distant 16

Peas topple spring barley 17

World wheat costs 18

Precision experiences 20

Buying group cuts costs 22

Edited by Charles Abel