Farmer Focus: Uncertain future gives opportunity for review

As I write this, we are coming to the end of a prolonged cold period, something we have not had in the past few winters. 

Hopefully, this will help reduce pests and disease carry-over and allow crops to grow away when spring comes with less disease pressure than in recent years.

It is encouraging to hear Michael Gove put over his thoughts on future rural policy, providing some certainty for the industry for a few years and a steer as to future policy direction. 

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I hope that the Scottish Government also puts its thoughts forward in the near future. One area that gives me particular concern is the potential capping of support. 

While in principle a cap may seem sensible, it needs to recognise that larger businesses, like those I manage, provide employment and spending in the local farming community.

Capping support payments for such businesses at a level appropriate for a farm supporting a self-employed family puts them at significant disadvantage. 

Hopefully safeguards to recognise this will be built into any new system.

Time for review

For me 2018 will be a year of change, as a couple of months ago, Farmcare announced its intention to cease its in-hand farming operations. 

As a result, negotiations are ongoing with my contract farming clients to agree how the businesses will proceed. 

While this has led to a period of uncertainty for myself and my colleagues, I am confident a positive outcome will result. 

This will give us a good opportunity to review the business and continue to strive to be more efficient, something we are regularly reminded at conferences that the industry must do.

This is not something new and has been happening for decades, allowing food to continue to be produced without the price going up. 

It occurred to me while watching the news how different it would be if every January, prices were increased by inflation or more, with the message to the consumer that they have to pay to allow investment in the industry.

It might take the media pressure off the railways for a day or two!

Robert Drysdale is farm manager at Farmcare’s 1,610ha business in Aberdeenshire, growing winter and spring barley, wheat and oilseed rape across four contract farming agreements to the south of Inverurie. The farm has 130 beef cows on land less suitable for crop production.