This Week in Farming: Politics and storms take their toll

Welcome to another This Week in Farming, your regular round-up of the best content from Farmers Weekly and FWi over the past seven days.

But before we get into it, a quick request to complete our annual Sentiment Survey which is live until next Tuesday (7 November).

It takes about 10 minutes to complete, is treated anonymously, and there is even a £50 voucher for one lucky participant.

Wet, wet, wet

There is little doubt that the main topic of conversation, as so often, is the weather.

Storm Ciaran, coming on top of Storm Babet just two weeks ago, has heaped further misery upon many food producers across swathes of the country.

Much of the blame is being levelled at the Environment Agency which stands accused of “hypocrisy and negligence” over its failure to maintain watercourses. 

Farmers say they are constantly being told to look after their soils and wildlife, but all their good work is being undone by significant damage to farmland after heavy flooding.

In search of a solution, the NFU is orchestrating a letter-writing campaign, urging members to contact their MPs.

A sample letter calls on MPs to back the NFU’s “Integrated Water Management Strategy”, to fund new flood defences and ensure urban areas pay their fair share for flood protection.

NFU Cymru conference

The inclement weather did little to prevent a good turnout of farmers at NFU Cymru’s autumn conference, held in Llandridnod Wells on Thursday (2 November).

Climate change was on the agenda, with one senior adviser from the UK’s Climate Change Committee castigating the Welsh government’s efforts to help farmers meet the mounting challenge, but warning that further action on tree planting and emissions will be needed to achieve net zero.

There was also dismay when rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths told farmers there would be no additional money for the temporary Habitat Wales Scheme, which will replace Glastir in 2024. Some farmers risk losing 70% of their current payments. 

Red tractor, green tractor

The row over Red Tractor’s “Greener Farms Commitment” rumbles on…

This week, we reported on calls by the AHDB for the various reviews of Red Tractor – and there are several, including the AHDB’s own review into standards and the NFU’s review into governance – to be amalgamated into a single review, commissioned by the Red Tractor ownership board.

This request was superceded, however, when Red Tractor chairwoman Christine Tacon voiced her support for the NFU’s approach and announced that further work on the Greener Farms Commitment was to be put on hold, pending the outcome of the review into Red Tractor governance. 

What the cluck?

Chickens have been in the news this week.

The egg sector has welcomed a new government consultation which aims to end unfairness in the supply chain, particularly in relation to contracts and pricing.

This is in fulfilment of a promise given by prime minister Rishi Sunak at last May’s “Farm to Fork” summit in Downing Street.

There has been good news on the meat side, too, with trade in poultrymeat set to resume with Japan, after avian influenza scuppered a previous trade deal.

It only applies to cooked meat and breeding stock, but could be worth £10m over the next few years.

Less good news has been the revelation that the Food Standards Agency’s food fraud squad has been called into action, investigating allegations of intensively produced broiler chicken being passed off as free-range.

Market updates

As ever, business reporter Charlie Reeve has been busy keeping an eye on the commodity markets.

On the up has been the lamb trade, with finished stock back above 570p/kg deadweight, buoyed by tighter supply.

It’s been a more static situation for both feed wheat and milk prices, with ex-farm feed wheat quoted at about £177/t, and most milk buyers holding farmgate prices steady for November and December.

Relations in the sugar sector seem to have soured, with British Sugar offering growers a contract worth £38/t for next year’s crop – even though negotiations with the NFU Sugar are still ongoing.

NFU Sugar said it was “outraged” by the pre-emptive move and this week, it wrote to Defra farming minister Mark Spencer asking his department to urgently intervene in the ongoing sugar beet pricing row.

Listen to the Farmers Weekly podcast

Finally, don’t forget the latest edition of the Farmers Weekly podcast with Johann Tasker and Hugh Broom.

Listen here or bring us with you in the cab by downloading it from your usual podcast platform.

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