Farmer Focus: Crop prospects at pivotal point

In the South West, we have been having a marvellous spring for getting things done – my only gripe is that it has been a cold one.

Slowly lifting soil temperatures, combined with low night temperatures, has meant crop growth has been somewhat steady. I didn’t start planting potatoes until April, but progress has been swift, withsurprisingly good soil conditions.

The only interruptions to planting have come about through a troublesome bed tiller, the make of which will remain unnamed. Suffice it to say the manufacturer knows my views on it.

See also: Read more from our arable Farmer Focus writers

At this point in the growing season, I feel that crop prospects could go either way. In general, the crops look in pretty good shape, but a continuation of the drier-than-average weather will soon turn things around. On a personal level we all need a good harvest, but on a collective level, tighter supply would do us all more favours.

Discussions with some vegetable customers indicate that they don’t really know where the market for the new crop is going to be and at what level they should fix it at. After a period where prices have been very low and they have been driven by their customers further up the chain to source ever more cheaply, it is proving an uphill struggle to agree sustainably priced supply contracts.

I did my bit to help improve the level of understanding recently by hosting a visit by a buyer from a major supermarket on behalf of one of my customers. It was really an opportunity for the buyer to understand how my customer went about sourcing the ingredients which went into its products. It turned out to be a really positive afternoon with a good two-way dialogue.

May is usually the month when I start to put together my cropping plans and budgets for the next harvest year. I suspect there will be even more drafts this year with the current level of uncertainty.

I think I can put it off for a while and continue with the BPS application, which is another story in itself.

Jeremy Oatey

Jeremy manages 1,100ha of arable land near Plymouth in Cornwall and is 2013 Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year. Cropping includes wheat, barley, OSR, oats, beans, potatoes, onions, swedes and daffodils.

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