21 February 1997

Competitive edge assured for future…

By Tim Relf

UK FARMERS are well placed to remain competitive in the world market.

So delegates heard at last weeks Farming 97 Britains Place in the Global Farm conference at Linton, Cambs.

"Our national geography is big plus point," said Barclay Forrest, chairman of British Cereal Exports at the Sentry Farming Group, Brown and Co and FW-sponsored event. "Typically the grain transport cost to port is about £5/t, compared with £16/t and £20/t in Canada and the US, respectively." This left the overall cost of production similar in all three countries.

Having key markets such as Spain, Italy and Portugal on the doorstep was an advantage, with over 80% of UK cereal exports destined for EU countries.

But the need now is to look further afield, said Mr Forrest.

China, for example, has 22% of the world population and a booming beer consumption. "We have to target the Chinese quality milling and malting market."

One problem, however, was our current reputation there, due to quality problems in the past. But this could be overcome – and product assurance would help. Traceability, however, was far harder to implement in the export business, and would continue to be approached on a piecemeal basis, said Mr Forrest.

But according to Daniel Amstutz, president of the North American Export Grain Association, the internal water-based network helps keep haulage charges down in the States – often well below £20/t.

"We also have an advantage over the UK because of our lower land values."

Compared to Canada or Australia – where volatile weather conditions can lead to "feast or famine" cycles – production is reliable in the US, he said.

The effect of currency movements on exports are also a worry. "US farmers dont like a strong $ any more than UK farmers like the strong £," said Mr Amstutz.

The US export trade had, however, had escaped any "explosive" effect from last years carnal bunt outbreak.

"With perception so important, it could have had parallels to the BSE crisis," said Mr Amstutz. "But our reputation has remained intact because the world recognises that we have the will and the ability to contain and eradicate it."

And he cited a recent national survey which showed that of 15,000 samples, only 71 tested positive for the disease.

Barclay Forrest: Costs of grain delivered compete with US and Canada.

Daniel Amstutz: USfarmers are also suffering from a strong currency.