January can seem an anti-climax after the festivities and indulgences of Christmas. For me the real indication of the New Year is finding the first snowdrop, delicate and pristine, to emerge in full flower.
Each year we should be better equipped to deal with the challenges which face us, using the lessons of the previous season to add to our experience. Last year delivered periods of aggravating, and in some cases spoiling, weather during harvest which challenged growers management.
Despite this 2015 produced some very encouraging yields; it was the year the UK broke the world wheat record twice and also took the record yield for oilseed rape.
Other parts of the world shared in our good fortune and the projections of world stocks to use weighed heavily on the market precipitating a fall. Growers have seen prices tumble by more than 30% in the last two years, a rate which has obliterated any of the yield benefits enjoyed last season.
With grain markets under continuing price pressure and our currency remaining strong we have to focus on techniques and management which can reduce the unit cost of production.
So what are the policy decisions we need to watch and influence in 2016 which will have a direct impact on our business?
With the sharp decline in commodity prices last year the importance of price risk management tools became self-evident. The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive could have seriously impacted on our ability to access futures markets.
The NFU highlighted the potential risks from this directive and through its strong lobbying has made significant progress; it is now likely forward trading will remain legal without farm businesses being regulated by the FCA, but vigilance and further lobbying is still required.
With fertiliser representing the single largest input cost for cereal and oilseed growers, it must be a point of focus in any attempt to reduce production costs.
Technology can help in delivering efficiencies in this area through precision farming and many growers are also reviewing the form of nitrogen applied; looking to capture cost benefits through judicial use of urea-based nitrogen in place of ammonium nitrate.
Concern expressed by growers and their representative organisations across Europe that fertiliser markets required increased transparency and development of competition seem to have been heard. EU Commissioner Phil Hogan recently reiterated his determination to investigate the situation.
Challenges and threats to our ability to use technology will continue. At the forefront will be the need to retain our limited armoury of plant protection products. We must continue to demand that future decisions on availability and registrations are based on sound science.
Without access to these products our ability to compete on world markets is compromised, unit cost of production will rise and the risk of developing resistance will increase.
Improvement in plant breeding techniques can speed up genetic advances and deliver important traits to growers which improve sustainability. Yet our access to this technology may be withdrawn if they are defined as genetically modified techniques under the current consultation.
These are just a few of the key policy issues under consideration in 2016 which will have an impact on your business.
Make it your New Year’s resolution to be engaged on these issues, take time to make your views known either directly or through your chosen industry representative. It can make a difference to your bottom line.