Farmer Focus: Bargaining could solve cash shortage for Jim Alston

Jim Alston runs 243ha at Manor Farm, Calthorpe, north Norfolk, and – as Calibre Farming – looks after arable operations on another 500ha. The light to medium soils grow potatoes, cereals and sugar beet

The Anglia Farmers invoice broke down the door, burst through the kitchen, jumped on my desk, laughed at the wheat price on the computer screen, kicked the cash flow in the guts and then ate the mouse.

Anglia Farmers, a purchasing co-operative, collect my spending and present the result in one invoice every month. Though the prices they achieved were considerably lower than if I’d done the purchasing myself, the collection of autumn fuel, fertiliser and plough metal had produced something far larger than the previous year.

This was cost inflation of 35% made very real.

With these higher costs and lower prices, demand for extra funding from agriculture seems inevitable at a time when cash is in short supply.

If this cash shortage has the same effect as the perceived shortage of wheat a year ago, the result will not be pretty. Something must happen to our costs if prices remain where they are now and one action that can be taken, besides changed cropping patterns, is lowered costs through organised bargaining.

This has made me think of my neighbour. He hires gang labour to catch his broiler chickens, but this time the gang was led by an older chap he didn’t recognise.

“Can you catch chickens?” he asked. “I am Rrrussian, ex-KJB. I can catch anything,” was the reply.

I also use similar help when harvesting potatoes and I asked the fellow helping in the yard where he was from.

“I’m Lithuanian,” he replied and, in what suddenly seemed a deeper voice, added: “I am Rrrussian Lithuanian. You want me to find the bad ones?”

I know the Russians have a negotiating technique that we haven’t fully explored – just ask any BP executive, if you can find one.

On reflection, I think I’ll stick with Anglia Farmers.

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