BE PREPARED – tough times are ahead. Heard it before? This gloomy message crops up regularly – so regularly, in fact, that few could be blamed for ignoring it.
After all, in the past few years UK agriculture has always seen something come to the rescue. First, the weak pound saved our bacon. Then bullish global grain markets lifted returns. And last year a surprisingly good harvest raised everyones spirits.
But now the omens are looking worse than they have been for a long time. Crop physiologists are predicting that the cold, wet June could take up to 20% off yields this season. If the weather stays unsettled, grain quality is also at risk.
Sterling is continuing from strength to strength, making it highly likely that we will see yet another revaluation of the green pound – in the wrong direction for arable margins – during mid August. That bodes ill for any prospect of recovery in the sickly grain and oilseed markets.
And now the politicians are piling on the agony. The Agenda 2000 proposals make worrying reading (see below). Cuts in intervention prices; reduced area aid compensation; a body blow to oilseed and pulse support. Add in the threat of modulation, where aid is removed from larger units, and it appears that UK growers have little to be optimistic about….
But before we sink into depression, lets take stock. The UK arable industry has achieved much in the past few years.
It is now one of the most efficient in Europe, and well placed to compete in world markets – even if that requires some adjustment. Being flexible and quick to respond to changing times is what is needed. Our sophisticated industry has the expertise to do just that.
Good information is critical. Growers must understand exactly what lies ahead, in order to tackle these future challenges. We must know the enemy – forewarned is forearmed. Now, more than ever before, the industry needs expert guidance – to prove the pessimists wrong.
The minister must take the lead and make sure that the reorganised MAFF, shorn of the new privatised ADAS, still gets key research information to the industry. Growers will also expect the HGCA to provide value for money for its own research programme. The current uncertainty will create even greater demand for the HGCAs increasingly crucial market intelligence.
More belt tightening on the arable agenda