8 January 1999

HIGH HOPES FOR

A BETTER YEAR

Tom Hamby, agricultural counsellor, Embassy of the United States of America

WE look forward to greater stability in 1999 that should translate into some export growth and limited improvements in prices for crops and livestock products.

One change certain to continue to rattle our teeth is the global economy and its partner the global market, now being born, but which will reach full flower in the 21st Century. If 1998 taught us anything, one lesson that should stick with us is that prosperity of British and US agriculture in 1999 and indeed, the next century, will depend more heavily than ever on a healthy global economy and on full access to the global market.

To ensure access, we must press through the World Trade Organisation for elimination of barriers to agricultural trade. We must also continue to ensure that our farmers have full access to benefits that advances in science and technology offer.

Jim Reed, director general, UKASTA

THE current crisis in agriculture stretches across all sectors including merchants and feed manufacturers.

Is it realistic to hope that UK supermarkets and caterers will boost demand for home-produced foods? Perhaps it is. British farm produce is certainly a bargain with farm gate prices currently so depressed.

If demand for local products rises, prices should follow all the way back to the farm gate. With the better harvest we all hope for in 1999, we might end the year with farmers and their trading partners in better economic health than at present. Thats my main hope.

With regard to Agenda 2000, I foresee a positive result in the spring. Ministers will take their decision and vote in favour of reforms before the European elections. The future will still be challenging – but is should be a bit more certain too.

Teresa Wickham, retail marketing consultant

MORE convenience stores run by major retailers in the high street or in joint ventures such as the Safeway/BP link, plus further increases in single households, will continue recent trends. Convenience and catering food trends will also continue upward, making this an important market for primary processors.

Loyalty cards and technology allow retailers to understand and to target individual customers directly. It will give them a much clearer indication of trends and regional differences in 1999.

I believe there will be more co-operation right down the food chain, and farmers will be able to adjust their businesses in response.

TV food programmes have an enormous effect on consumers.

Polarisation in a search for better quality and more variety will lead to more use of specialised shops and mail order.

We are likely to see more direct delivery and use of the Internet for shopping.

Bob Parry, president, Farmers Union of Wales

THE only thing I can say with any certainty is that we will once again see shipments of our beef being exported beyond our shores. Although this is excellent news, it must be tempered by the knowledge that it will take a massive marketing effort to recapture the export trade we lost overnight in March 1996.

I trust the government will provide additional resources to enable our beef to be marketed to the utmost ability abroad.

Here in Wales we will also see the first elections for the Welsh Assembly. This will give us an exciting opportunity through the new Welsh Food Strategy to market Welsh products effectively throughout the UK and beyond.

I also hope that the assembly members will be sympathetic towards farming in general, and also demonstrate a true understanding of the plight facing the family farmers who form the backbone of the industry in Wales.

Ian MacNicol, president, Country Landowners

Associations

FIRST of the unresolved problems that the government must tackle is to bring UK producer and processor costs into line with those of our competitors.

Second, Agenda 2000 must bring a simple CAP in which our farmers can compete. So, its no to modulation, cross-compliance and renationalisation and yes to agri-environment and rural development measures to give more opportunities in hard-pressed rural areas.

Third, the Government must get behind rural businesses – in its Rural White Paper, in planning policy, in the new Countryside Agency and RDAs, and get with the industry in supporting initiatives to strengthen the position of producers in the food chain.

George Lyon, president, National Farmers Union of Scotland

1998 was a dreadful year for Scottish agriculture. But a major campaign by a united industry has made politicians realise the importance of agriculture in the rural economy. Political victories have been won – interest rates have been cut; sterling is starting to weaken; the sheep carcass export ban has been resolved.

Scotlands recent £36m aid package does little to solve the industrys underlying problems, but should buy a little time. It will help give Scottish agriculture some confidence. We can set about rebuilding our markets, and be a little more optimistic about the long-term future.

Our industry must work with the government to find a sustainable future. Weve already started these discussions – and soon the union will widen the debate. May brings a tremendous opportunity, when Scotland elects a new Scottish parliament. We believe that parliament should give our industry strong leadership and recognise its role as a key player in the Scottish economy.

Patrick Holden,

The Soil Association

THE encouraging upward trend in consumption of organic produce – £350m in 1998 – shows no sign of slowing down, and there is plenty of scope for British farmers to develop systems to meet the current shortfall. Seventy percent of organic produce is imported, a figure that will reduce as more agricultural land attains organic status.

The MAFF-funded Organic Conversion Information Service line has received 6000 calls in just two years from farmers interested in converting. Half of these requested free on-farm advice.

The Soil Association has expanded its technical services to process more than 60 new applications a month and its profile is rising as the campaign against the introduction of GM crops gathers pace. Growing consumer awareness of the connections between health, food, farming and the environment guarantees a bright future for organics.