3 September 1999


A NEW millennium beckons and with it comes a feeling of distinct uneasiness. Lower prices have been forecast for years. But now they are here, and they are hurting. And worse still they seem set to stay. The new millennium suddenly looks very unwelcoming indeed.

Admittedly, arable farmers have prepared for the downturn. Efficiency is now the foundation stone on which all decisions are based and economies of scale are pursued with a vengeance.

Indeed UK arable farmers have held their position amongst the most efficient in Europe, if not the world. But with prices hopefully at the bottom of the cycle the momentum must not stop. Changes must continue, even for those who can survive with £70/t wheat and £205-235/ha (£83-95/acre) area aid, depending on region.

But the chill winds of world market forces will be felt ever more keenly in the years to come. Global producers are eager to have access to our markets. So now is the time to maintain the momentum and ensure businesses are fit enough to weather the storms that await us in 2000 and beyond.

To do that four key areas need considering:

&#8226 Strategy – do you have one? Are you sure you are growing the right crops, for the right markets, using the right inputs and with the right overheads structure? Are you buying your inputs as well as you could and are you marketing your produce in the best way possible? Do you have the right equipment to hand and the right staff? Such issues need resolving.

&#8226 Risk management – how are you reducing risks on your farm? Are you still gunning for top dollar or prepared to take a bankable average price? Do you track performance against a budget or hope for the best?

&#8226 Technical innovation – the pipeline of new products is far from empty. They may cost more, but they can deliver big benefits, if used correctly. Will you be at the forefront of their adoption?

&#8226 Environment – are you adapting your business to take account of the growing demands for environmental awareness? Are you using the grant support that is available to improve the wildlife value of your farm?

Finding time to consider such issues during the hectic rush to establish, nurture and harvest arable crops is not easy. That is why we have drawn together some of the key themes is this supplement. Our coverage is not comprehensive – that would take a whole book. But we hope it sets you on the right track.

Over the coming weeks and months farmers weekly will continue to keep you abreast of all the latest developments – be they technical, marketing or political. Perhaps by this time next year we will be able to look forward to the opportunities of the new millennium with a real sense of confidence.

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