Jim Alston homes in on contract prices

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.

In the past year wheat has doubled in price as has malting barley and oilseed rape. But so, too, have fertiliser, fuel and animal feed.

The price of each crop appears directly related to the extent production is contracted so wheat has risen in price and potato contracts are hardly keeping up with agricultural inflation. This year’s price for sugar beet, which is 100% contracted, rather proves the point.

Historically, farm prices have tended to move with the crude oil price, which has climbed from $60 a barrel in Feb 2007 to $119 in April 2008 and continues to rise while the wheat price begins to fall back.

It is not just those who want contracts signed who are out of step. On questioning the Environment Agency about weed cutting by the River Bure, which runs against my farm, I was told that five “stakeholder groups” needed consulting first, and not one of those was directly involved in agriculture.

I explained this to one of our drivers, and his comment was: “Well bor, we’ll be higher up that list in 10 years’ time.”

We can at last see the end of drilling our beet, which has proved as worrying as it has been protracted.

I console myself with the fact that in 2005 we completed sowing on my home farm on 27 April and harvested a record crop.

More concerning are the potatoes. The Marfona have gone in well, but the Piper will not all get planted in April. So with an inflexible growing season they are going to have some work to do to make up for lost time.

Will I carry on growing sugar beet with oilseed rape being as tempting as it is?

Having watched my brother chase pigeons for three months, the answer is an unenthusiastic, “yes, but I’m looking”.

Jim Alston

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