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Our Talking Arable and Talking Agronomy contributors’ reports for this month’s Arable Farming are simply bristling with activity; I can almost feel everyone shaking off the last vestiges of winter (well almost).
But while news from the field is upbeat, news from the markets is less so, with the word ‘sliding’ cropping up with unwelcome regularity in the context of price movements.
Reading the grain market reports, it is apparent the weak euro is continuing to impact on our export prospects, making selling into Europe a tough task, and so this issue’s business feature, which takes an indepth look at the impact of currency movements on the UK arable sector, is particularly pertinent.
As I write, the last budget before the election is not long completed and the topic of market volatility features in early responses from the farming unions.
Both NFU and NFUS have welcomed the Chancellor’s decision to allow farmers and growers to average their incomes over five years rather than two, which, it is hoped, will go some way to allowing them to manage volatility and focus more on investment and growth.
Exports were also on the agenda during a recent Potato Council-organised study tour to Belgium, France and the Netherlands, which I was fortunate to have the chance to join. We visited six potato growers and it was interesting to hear how they were taking their businesses forward.
The focus was on costs of production for processing crop in particular and approaches to growing, storing and marketing potatoes were scrutinised. I think it is fair to say the UK contingent found much to be concerned about, in terms of prices and contracts, but also certain aspects of agronomy and storage.
Several of the growers we visited produced for both the table and processing markets, but while acknowledging the familiar decline in fresh potato consumption, they appeared to be focused on increasing exports or meeting demand from the expanding processing sector, rather than concerned with addressing the declining fresh market.
On a final note, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and its IT system have been all over the headlines of late. Growers’ patience has been wearing thin as promised upgrades failed to resolve mapping problems. And, as Arable Farming goes to press, there’s news of a complete U-turn from Defra and the RPA, with the announcement there will be a return to a paper-based system.
What a fiasco.
Teresa Rush, Arable Farming editor.