Opinion: Not much hope for 2015, according to the tea leaves

Mother in-law’s tea leaf reading usually provides an uncanny insight into the year ahead. I hope for all our sakes her efforts to predict what 2015 holds prove to be wide of the mark.

January: New EID (ears impossibly damaged) requirements come into force for sheep in England.  Any sheep found to have an ear through which it can still hear anything will be considered to be “not carrying a sufficient number of identification tags” and will be rejected for slaughter. 

February: To prevent the further spread of bovine TB, Defra announces a ramping up of cattle control measures. All farms within annual testing parishes will have to pre-movement test cattle before they “put one foot in front of the other”. Defra vets say “it will help identify the disease sooner”. The badger protection lobby describes the restrictions as “far too little, far too late”.

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March: Some food retailers intensify the price wars with a reduction to 59p for four pints of milk. The cheaper four-pint bottles will also carry a new “Bogof” label which, the supermarket explains to baffled customers, stands for “bankrupt our gullible old farmers”.

April: Land agent Strutt & Posture announces that its quarterly farmland price index had “broken through the Range Rover Vogue index even for junior partners for the first time”. Senior partner Heathcoat Barbour comments that “10 years ago we were all roughing it in piddly little 5.0-litre VW Touaregs, but with land sales where they are now we are definitely going to have enlarge our car park”.

May: Delays by the Rural Land Register in measuring hedgerow areas for EFA causes huge numbers of farmers to rush to apply for the new BPS (bugger-all payments scheme) SFP online at the last minute. The RPA “gateway” crashes, leaving thousands unable to register their application in time. 

“Bogof”, the supermarket explains, stands for “bankrupt our gullible old farmers”. Stephen Carr

June: To sort out the mess, Margaret Beckett is brought back as Defra secretary for the recently elected Labour/Ukip coalition government.

July: Another scandal emerges over suppliers to Premier Foods having to pay to keep their contracts.  Premier Foods, maker of Mr Kipling cakes, said it had taken “exceedingly good legal advice” and was confident, therefore, that groceries code adjudicator Christine Tacon would not be able to do anything about it.

August: With grain prices in the doldrums, Lincolnshire grower Tim Lamyman beats his own UK yield record of 14.5 t/ha and sets a new world record wheat yield of 15.8 t/ha. When interviewed, he says: This isn’t good enough, at current wheat prices I need 16 t/ha just to break even.”      

September: The Commons Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee reports that broadband coverage in remote areas is now “100%”, with no complaints received in its online survey.

October: A Defra survey reports a further decline in farmland birds. Farmers reject the findings, saying bags of both partridge and pheasant are above average.

November: Several milk processors cut their new “privileged supplier” milk contracts to 10p/litre. The FFA announces it “will start to demonstrate outside milk processors” and points out that “30% of UK milk producers have quit this year”. But with remaining dairy herds continuing to expand and cows producing ever more milk, gross UK production rises 12% on the year. 

December: Due to “IT problems”, not one English, Welsh or Scottish farmer has been paid his or her SFP by the end of the month, with “severe delays” forecast.

If you have any predictions of your own to add to Stephen’s tea leaf list, please email them to farmers.weekly@rbi.co.uk

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