INCREASED volatility and falling commodity prices across the sectors have seen farmers’ confidence drop to lower levels than last year, a new survey by the NFU has revealed. Confidence, specifically in the arable and dairy sectors, has declined significantly from 12 months ago, but farmers across the industry have told NFU that the three-year forecast is much more positive. As part of our sixth annual confidence survey, members told the NFU that they expected negative impacts on their businesses in the coming year relating to regulation and legislation (69%); CAP reform (51%); output prices (56%) and input prices (46%). Output prices are the second most important factor affecting confidence, as members have seen their margins squeezed as a result of the fall in farmgate prices greater than the reduction in their costs of production.
The survey also shows that in the last two years twice as many farmers have seen their profits declining, with 49% of respondents now reporting declining profits (42% last year). Some 7% think their business may not survive – the highest figure in any year so far. Those figures were even more worrying in the dairy sector, where almost 20% of dairy respondents declared that their business may not survive, a rise from 3% in 2014. NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “This year has seen British farming face massive challenges, not least of all falling farmgate prices, particularly within the dairy and arable sectors. “Given the levels of volatility we have seen across the industry it is no surprise that we have seen farmer confidence in the negative.
It shows very clearly that we are absolutely correct to urge Defra and RPA to make every effort to speed delivery of BPS payments and that we press processors and retailers for a fairer return for the highquality food that farmers supply. “Regulation remains the key blocker for our members’ confidence. This gives a clear message that government must to do all that it can to ease regulatory pressure. Confidence is critical because it influences investment and production intentions. If we want our farms to compete in an increasingly global market place and make the most of emerging export opportunities, we need government action rather than rhetoric when it comes to reducing red tape. This is why NFU is calling for action in 2016 to reduce the frequency of farm inspections and improve their coordination.
“Our research has shown that looking forward, farmers have a generally optimistic outlook on their medium-term prospects. The government has a golden opportunity, in its 25-year Food and Farming Strategy, to map the course for a more confident and profitable industry. The NFU urges government, retailers and the public to back British farming to ensure this optimism is not misplaced.” More farmers said they want to invest in diversification, training and energy efficiency in the three years to come. Those intentions are backed by the higher levels of borrowing in agriculture registered for the first nine months of the year.
The volatility of markets was a key part of evidence given by the NFU to House of Lords committee on December 16. The NFU has given evidence to a group of Peers on how agricultural price volatility impacts farm businesses. Head of food and farming Phil Bicknell appeared before the House of Lords Energy and Environment Sub- Committee as part of its enquiry into market prices and wider resilience among farmers. It follows a similar enquiry being held by MPs on the House of Commons Efra Select Committee into farmgate prices.
With volatility characterising most agricultural markets, and the associated pressures on cash flow, profitability and long term business planning, the committee heard about the challenges of price volatility faced by NFU members. Mr Bicknell emphasised that sustained price volatility risks the viability of farm businesses, leads to reduced investment levels, and is a challenge for the whole food supply chain rather than just a farming issue.
He said: “Volatility is an ever increasing characteristic of agricultural markets, particularly as we’ve seen farm policy back away from market management and control to less marketdistorting policy tools. “Farming is a very resilient industry. Our industry is made up of farmers who are past masters at dealing with anything that’s thrown at them – whether that’s periods of low prices or the recent devastating floods that hit farming communities in Northern England. “But it’s important that we’re an industry that thrives rather than just survives and is geared up for future food production. A boom and bust cycle of prices benefits can be damaging in the long run.”
Farming faces zero carbon challenge
AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.
Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.
According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.
“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.
“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.
“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.
“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.
“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
HSE fees up 20%
A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.
Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.
If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).
Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee.
“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.
“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.
“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.
“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”
Red meat gives ‘Taste of Wales’
WELSH Lamb and Welsh Beef were among the finest of Welsh foods at Wales’ largest and most prestigious food and drink trade event, Taste Wales last month.
The remarkable display of products, all under one roof, brought together a large contingent of UK and overseas buyers, including importers with a specific interest in Welsh red meat. These included a major foodservice and retail importer and distributor from Scandinavia that imports 6,000 million tonnes of meat annually from all over the world. The company is recognised for bringing tasty food experiences to Nordic dining tables.
They were invited to the event by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) who also arranged site visits to some of Wales’ major red meat processing plants. The main aim was to impress the importers with the industry’s high ethical and environmental standards.
The visit, led by HCC’s market representatives in Scandinavia, was a platform for many productive and promising discussions.
One representative, Anette Stenebrandt said at Taste Wales: “We have a company from Sweden and Finland with us, trying to do some new business in the Nordic-speaking countries. This is really a fantastic fair and we have enjoyed it a lot.”
Her colleague Jakob True added: “This is our first time here at this amazing event, it’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of Welsh producers, particularly Welsh Lamb which is world-class, we know. We’ll go back to Scandinavia with a lot of good new leads and hopefully bring a lot of business to Wales.”
HCC’s Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “Many of the buyers we met at Taste Wales, including the Scandinavians, showed a significant interest in Welsh Lamb and were impressed by the whole package – from the story of producing Welsh Lamb to the processing techniques, the taste and texture.
“Others also expressed a keen interest in forging deals with the industry, including a Japanese department store, a major buyer from Hong Kong and a representative from Qatar. This bodes well for the future, especially as Brexit uncertainty is set to continue in light of the extension on Article 50.”
In recent months, HCC has undertaken a strategic GB marketing drive to encourage growth and recognition of our quality produce on British soil.
HCC’s UK Market Development Executive, Emily Davies said: “Our presence at Taste Wales also included concentrating our efforts on promoting Welsh Lamb in the domestic market. We met a number of foodservice companies, retailers and executive chefs and discussed Welsh red meat opportunities with meal-kit companies and online retailers. We also launched a new tool-kit for retailers which highlights the ways in which we can work with them to promote Welsh Lamb and Beef.”
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