What are the big issues facing farmers in 2009? Key industry figures do a bit of crystal-ball gazing to predict the future
Chief executive, IGD
The critical factor for farmers in 2009 will be the reaction of shoppers and retailers to the recession. With the downturn deepening, it is difficult to feel optimistic about the year ahead. However, the food and drink sector is more recession-resistant than most others.
Over the past 20 years shoppers have developed many new tastes, habits and values, such as for organic and high welfare. This year people will be seeking value for their values rather than abandoning their ideals. There will still be opportunities for farmers to diversify.
The weak pound will help us to compete in overseas markets, although it will make imported inputs more expensive. Food waste will be strongly discouraged and with the help of the relaxation of EU rules about perfectly shaped produce, growers will be able to sell more of their crop.
Auctioneer at McCartney’s Ludlow market, Shropshire
There are four key issues facing the sector in 2009 – the strength of sterling, the general economic downturn, TB restrictions and the supply of cattle coming forward.
All the time the euro is strong against the pound, it will help exports. There’s more influence on lamb prices than anything else.
But agriculture is not immune to the economic downturn and as consumer spending tightens, so the demand for cheaper cuts of meat will increase, while premium cuts and steaks become less popular.
An ongoing issue, particularly for store cattle, will be TB policies. The Welsh Assembly seems to have a more positive plan than Westminster, and it’s a debate that’s going to continue.
Finally, beef cattle supply could struggle, due to the popularity of dairy-orientated Holstein crosses.
The global financial meltdown will continue to have an impact on the UK economy.
It remains to be seen how hard British farming will be hit and in particular whether people who have built a high-quality, high-value market will be able to survive the tough economic conditions.
There is some encouragement in falling input prices. Our aim as a union will be to continue to push for greater transparency in input pricing and in the prices that we are paid for our produce. The government said it would give us parity with farmers in the wider EU after the recent CAP health check talks. We shall be making every effort to ensure that they keep to that promise.
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