12 December 1997

World market main focus

Political freedom to feed the

world and techniques to

help UK growers do so had a

good airing at the 1997

Crops conference in Cambs.

Andrew Blake reports

WIDER EU membership, taking in the former Eastern Bloc, will increase the communitys land area by 25%, lift the number of farmers by 50%, but boost agricultural output by only 4%.

That was the background, painted by chairman and deputy NFU president Tony Pexton, to this years St Ives Crops conference where the theme was making the most of UK farmer efficiency to tackle new world markets.

"1.1m Polish dairy farmers produce slightly less milk than 30,000 UK dairy farmers," said Mr Pexton. "The average area of sugar beet in Poland is about 1.5ha. You can see the problems we have when we expand eastwards." The only realistic way forward is to take advantage of growing world markets for food, he maintained.

Urging growers to make better use of the wide range of information available to market their crops, grain trader Jon Duffy of Gleadall Banks believed Agenda 2000 CAP reform proposals present a good opportunity for UK producers.

"As cereal farmers we can pat ourselves on the back because as a nation we are amongst the most efficient in Europe. Yes prices may stay low, but you are much better positioned to cope than most of our Continental friends."

But Mr Duffy was scathing of earlier comments at the conference from Lord Donoughue pledging government support for exports. "We have heard some hollow words from the minister." The EU recently missed out on a tender to supply 1.2m tonnes of barley to Saudi Arabia, he explained. "The commission sat on their backsides and refused to give licences until the price came down." By then other non-EU suppliers had stepped in.

"It is much cheaper to grant export restitutions than it is to put grain into intervention.

Jon Duffy – Agenda 2000 gives better opportunities to UK producers than EU competitors.

Tony Pexton – taking advantage of growing world markets is the only realistic way forward.

Novel hybrid rape

Novel hybrid rape varieties, both winter and spring, should go some way to offset lower oilseeds returns resulting from Agenda 2000 proposals, according to Kerr Walker of the SAC.

With area payments set to fall by as much as £249/ha (£100/acre), access to new hybrids and genetically modified crops is vital, explained Dr Walker. "New technology can help redress the balance."

New triple cross hybrids, similar to composite types or varietal associations such as Synergy, but consisting of a 50/50 mix of male fertile and male sterile plants, seemed particularly attractive by reducing the risks of poor pollination, he said.