2023: What made the farming news in May and June?

Our review of 2023 in agricultural events continues with a look at May and June – food security, milk prices, rising costs, meat-free products, tree planting, charity support, direct payments, the weather and Open Farm Sunday were all hot topics.

See also: Editor’s view: Reasons farmers can be cheerful this Christmas


The spotlight fell on food security and threats to domestic food production, after an NFU survey found business confidence among UK farmers was so low that many had no plans to invest in machinery, livestock or land over the next three years.

Defra compounded that concern by scrapping its plans for an English horticulture strategy at a time when British Apples and Pears said the industry was on a “knife edge’’.

Imports of cheap foreign cucumbers resulted in British growers failing to secure a market for their own produce.

The situation was grim for dairy farmers too with farmgate milk prices down by almost 30% since January.

Processors said limited demand and greater European supply were reasons why they were paying their milk suppliers less than 40p/litre.

Analysis by Farmers Weekly considered whether cultured meat could kill off the livestock industry.

A UK-based initiative seemingly sought to do that with the launch of a £12m project investigating the best ways to produce it. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for meat producers.

Yorkshire-based sausage maker Heck Foods stopped producing almost all its meat-free products, saying consumers were no longer interested in plant-based sausages.

Cornwall Council also launched a “fightback’’ against anti-livestock sentiment by passing a motion that meat and dairy would be on the menu at council events.

Bullock and 3 people

Stuart the bullock © Emily Brasher

At 1,500kg and thought to be the biggest steer in the country, Stuart the bullock further lifted the spirits of beef producers – and surprised staff at a KFC in Cambridgeshire – when his owner, Jodie Green, rode him through the restaurant’s drive-thru.

It was all in the name of charity with more than £1,400 raised for Macmillan Cancer Research.

May’s usual sun and heat were in short supply as persistent dull and cold conditions dominated the weather and increased disease pressure on crops.

The weather, or climate change, raised questions about future threats to crops from foreign diseases and pests with a warning that just one unusually warm winter could result in an invasive pest establishing in the UK.

In Wales, the blame for driving farmers off the land was directed at mass tree planting, with reports of farmers being outbid for land by investors from outside agriculture seeking to offset their carbon emissions.

But for Welsh farmers seeking to reduce methane emissions, efforts to build more slurry stores to comply with new pollution control regulations were being thwarted by planning authorities refusing applications.

Rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths announced a six-month delay to new rules limiting the spreading of organic manure on farmland.

Three men

Prime minister Rishi Sunak with Clarkson’s Farm stars Kaleb Cooper and Charlie Ireland © Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

Prime minister Rishi Sunak hosted a “Farm to Fork” summit at 10 Downing Street, where he promised to do more to boost domestic food production and secure greater fairness in the supply chain.

NFU president Minette Batters and TV farming star Kaleb Cooper were in attendance.

Mr Cooper also launched a new bursary to help students from the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, pursue a career in farming.


The month started on a positive note for English upland farmers when Defra announced it would pay them the same as lowland farmers for actions taken under the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

So, instead of £98/ha for managing grassland with low inputs, they would in future receive £151/ha.

Across the border in Scotland, there was industry lobbying too for government payments as NFU Scotland demanded that 80% of future funding should be made to farmers as direct payments.

Also occupying the minds of Scottish farmers was the weather, with rainfall figures for the previous month showing that Scotland only received 44% of its long-term average rainfall.

Water cannon shooting

Scottish farmers suffered targeted water abstraction restrictions. © JJ Walters/Alamy Stock Photo

With little rain forecast for June, concern mounted over the prospect of a summer drought and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency introduced targeted water abstraction restrictions.

But the good weather lured visitors in their thousands to farms across the UK with more than 250 farmers opening their gates to the public on Open Farm Sunday.

People in field and car

Open Farm Sunday © Jake Freestone

The sunshine brought a stark reminder of the susceptibility of farmers to skin cancer and advice to cover up.

The Irish Farmers’ Association estimated that farmers’ exposure to UV radiation was two to three times greater than the level of people who work indoors.

It was a month of wins and losses for businesses. Plant-based food manufacturer Meatless Farm laid off all 50 staff at its Leeds headquarters after warning shareholders that it faced multimillion-pound losses.

But for Mole Valley Farmers the month was all about growth, reopening its Lifton Feed Mill in Devon after a £4m upgrade that increased animal feed production capacity from 20,000t to 135,000t.

Bosses at Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons denied accusations of price pegging and operating as a cartel when they were grilled by the House of Commons’ Business and Trade committee.

Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn rejected that, describing the gaps between retail and farmgate prices on meat, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables as “huge’’.

Cost was very much on the minds of Welsh farmers, too, as Natural Resources Wales’ scale of charges saw the charge for a permit to dispose of used sheep dip rise to more than £3,700 – a 900% increase.

The country’s first ever Welsh Agriculture Bill, which set out legislation for introducing post-Brexit farm policy, was approved by Senedd members.

National Resources Wales recruited 16 new inspectors to check on-farm pollution levels.

Pick-ups for Peace, a charity set up by British farmers to aid the Ukrainian army, met its goal of delivering 100 4×4 vehicles to troops on Ukraine’s front line. 

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