Farmer Focus: Jim Alston says new era of trust required

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

How does your garden Grow?

With Yara bells and North Sea wells

And blue bags all in a row.

How big that row will get in the coming season depends on who blinks first. The fertiliser market has moved from one we knew and understood to one that’s difficult to trust. Establishing a sense of order among the chaos will take effort to re-establish links between seller and buyer.

Without rain soon spring barley will be a half-pound crop and sugar beet needs a tuppence-worth of rain to produce its half pound of treacle. British Sugar’s £23/t may produce a small enough return to make it struggle for acreage again next year. So, as with fertiliser, a more constructive and trustworthy environment needs to be invented that doesn’t hark back to old ideas, but seeks to create new ones.

As I look around my area it is easy to see the results of a dry April after a wet autumn on soils depreciated by potatoes or heavy sugar beet machinery – and I have fields like that. The drier it gets, and it has been dry here, the worse it looks. The wicked Witch of the West Wind means others get the rain and we don’t.

If the new order is the free market in its unfettered glory; if you can sell your wheat while the market is rising; if you can buy your fertiliser while the market is falling; if you can wait until conditions are right to drill; if you can harvest when the corn is dry, then you are a rare breed, my son.

Little Miss Muffet sat on her Tuffet, filling in forms for the RPA,

With markets in trouble, this payment’s a bubble,

And 2013’s not far away.

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