By Farmers Weekly staff

FARMINGS continued economic crisis has caught many producers by surprise, judging by results of NatWests Farming Forecaster of the Year competition.

Almost 300 farmers attending last years Smithfield Show were asked to predict the state of the industry this autumn.

Many thought oilseed rape would be worth £151/t in September 1999. In fact, the price plummeted by 27% to just under £110/t.

Milling wheat and feed barley also failed to meet expectations. Growers were hoping for £92/t and £77/t respectively, but had to make do with about £6/t less in each case.

On the livestock front, sheep producers had the biggest shock. They had expected finished lamb prices to improve by almost 8p/kg on the year, but September 1999 values showed a fall of more than 6p/kg to 64.6p/kg.

At least the bank base rate came as a welcome surprise to most. This fell by 2.25% on the year – farmers expected a fall nearer 1%.

Only about 10% of entries came close, says senior agricultural manager Simon Jones.

The closest was Edward Underdown, of EJ Underdown and Son, near Honiton, Devon, who wins a cheque for £250.

How does he see this year panning out? Not much better, it seems. “We could be looking at 1ppl off the milk price by next autumn.”

Mr Underdown, who milks 130 cows, also grows some cereals for feed. “I think wheat and barley prices will stay much the same.”

However, he suspects that the Pound may at last weaken – to Euro1.45 this time next year – and that interest rates will rise to 6%.