By Robert Harris
NFU officials are pressing the Government to help cereal growers following a patchy harvest which will do little to offset poor prices.
But the union stresses that growers must also help themselves by marketing crops as effectively as possible.
UK farmers have gathered 22.9 million tonnes of cereals this harvest, 2.6% less than last year, according to the NFU production estimate released this week. That is almost 900,000t below Dalgetys recent prediction.
“Farmers cashflow is being hit by low prices and in some cases by low yields as well,” says NFU cereals committee chairman Richard Butler. “One way in which MAFF could help make a difference is to ensure that the IACS payment due from October reaches farmers as soon as possible.”
The NFU is also pressing the government to apply for the £90 million of compensation payments available from Brussels to offset the effect of the strong Pound which has cut arable area aid payments by about 6% this year, says NFU economist Gaelle Pineau.
Quality, although better than expected, is very variable, according to HGCA figures, says policy director Ian Gardiner. But this years smaller price gap between UK and French crop should help shift up to 5 million tonnes of wheat available for export, he adds.
Looking in more detail, the NFU predicts a slight rise in wheat production of 3.1% on 1997, to 15.5 million tonnes. Area was similar, but average yield hit 7.6t/ha, 2.6% higher than last year. But this hides regional variations which show yields were 9% down in the south-west, and by about 2% in the north and Scotland. East Anglia and the East Midlands fared best, where yields were up by about 7%.
Winter barley output slumped by 14.5% to 4.5 million tonnes, partly due to a fall in planted area of almost 9%. But average output fell almost 10% from 1997 to 5.7t/ha. Yields dropped dramatically in the north (-18%) and the West Midlands (-13%). Output also fell by over 10% in the East Midlands and the south-west.
UK spring barley production fell by 13% to 2.23 million tonnes.