Farming Thoughts for Harvest 2014 ~ Rural Affairs with Dagmar Winter

21/08/2014

It's been a good year physically for farming: after a kind winter, the weather continued to be good, there's been good lambing, the grass has grown well all summer, silage and hay making was good with nice big piles of silage, the crops are looking good and a good yield is expected.

Straw carting [Simon Bainbridge]

Straw carting [Simon Bainbridge]       

 

A rainbow of sheep

A rainbow of sheep       

 

Harvest

Harvest      

 

 

 

The only fly in the ointment for arable farmers especially in the Borders was the remains of Hurricane Bertha in August which laid crops flat (so hoping for not too much rain now).

On the other side of the coin, literally, is the drop in commodity prices worldwide. Quite often, in years when arable prices are good, livestock prices are poor and vice versa. This year, prices are generally down. Beef prices have dropped by 20% and lambs are £5 less per head than last year. The price paid to a farmer for barley and wheat is half of what it was three years ago. And one farmer told me this interesting comparison: in the 1990s it was £90 for a ton of grain and £90 for a ton of fertilizer - this year it's still £90 for a ton of grain to the farmer, but the cost for a ton of fertilizer is £270. So many arable farmers, while pleased they are about a fortnight ahead of themselves this year, will be struggling since they run on small margins. Of course, like for all of us, costs have continued to go up for fuel, electricity, machinery etc.

Ironically, it is the good harvests, not only in the UK, that are depressing prices, along with the strong Pound affecting meat exported. One farmer was interested to learn that the meat from his lambs was not going to France, Italy or Spain (usual destinations) but to Norway – I wonder whether they are eating Northumbrian lamb in the Diocese of Møre!
The situation for tenant farmers has been more in the news recently, with rents showing quite a rise. With the drop in prices, tenant farmers are expecting and hoping for a slower rate of increase in their rents.

Most farmers I speak to absolutely love what they do even though it's hard, and it's especially hard when their hard work and the long hours do not get properly rewarded, making it increasingly unattractive or impossible for their children to take on the mantle. However, taking the long view and also reflecting on the situation of farmers today say in Gaza, an older farmer said to me that they had a lot to be thankful for. While not pleased with the depressed prices today, he was reminded of his father telling him that in the 1930s farmers were sometimes unable to sell their produce at all and found themselves taking produce home again from the market due to lack of demand.

Farming is ever-changing and with a growing world population which needs to be fed, there is a great urgency today to make sure new entrants into agriculture have the necessary opportunities and training, combining traditional skills with all the increasingly associated science and technology. There is much to do within the farming sector and by the government to make this possible.

Finally, farmers are keen to encourage us all to buy local and British. A local farmer was not amused to be told last month by her local large supermarket stacked with New Zealand lamb that British lamb was "not in season" … It's a sobering reminder of how far many of us are now removed from the realities of farming and food production, and it's all the more reason to reflect on the farming community and on where our food comes from in our Harvest services this year.

 

  • Planning a Harvest Service? Go to www.fcn.org.uk/resources for ideas, including a downloadable PowerPoint presentation.
     
  • Wondering who to support with your Harvest collection? FCN, the Farming Community Network, is the church in action in the farming community. Many people have their health, their families, their future and their very lives intact because of the care, support and friendship they have received from an FCN volunteer, including from the Northumberland group which visits farmers as well as playing a part in staffing the national Farming Helpline for all the Farming Charities.
     
  • Details on their website: www.fcn.org.uk
     

Go to Rural pages

 

 

 

View the news archive