Farmer Focus Arable: Organic grain market is settling for Andrew Charlton

The amazing unpredictability of agricultural markets sometimes makes this business feel as risky professional gambling.

At the beginning of this year there was talk of the credit crunch being the end of the market for organic food, while prospects for conventional grain markets looked very promising – a fast growing world population was gobbling up all we could supply.

Now prospects for organic grain marketing look very settled and conventional markets are into freefall. I just wonder how Ford, for example, would cope if the list price of a new Mondeo varied between £18,000 and £12,000 within six months, or whether British Airways would still exist if you could fly economy to New York for £500 or £300 depending on pure chance.

Like all farmers, all I can do is hope to stay clinging to this insane rollercoaster and not get thrown off.

Grain harvest started here about 10 days later than usual. Yields have been OK, but about 10-15% behind last year’s.

Westminster barley, a new addition to the cropping this year to allow us to undersow with red clover, did 6.8t/ha. But the late harvest didn’t help harvesting, as the clover was beginning to really get away.

Einstein wheat, 6.5-7t/ha across the farm, was OK and again a perfectly acceptable all-rounder. But the winner has been a new variety, Shepherd, at over 8t/ha.

It’s a Recommended List reject; but it has very high disease resistance, is a great scavenger for nutrients and grows vigorously to compete against weeds. In other words it’s a great variety for us organic types.

A new grain marketing opportunity this year through the Organic Arable marketing co-operative means I have a secure, long-term outlet for feed wheat into local organic pig supply chains, so variety planning has become much easier.

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