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Talking Policy with Mike Hambly: Challenges exist everywhere


Whatever your views on climate change one thing I am convinced of is our rainfall is increasing.

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From an early age one of the things I learned from the Christmas story is the ‘Wise Men’ came from the East. It therefore came as something of a surprise, as a farmer from the far West, to be asked to contribute a column to Arable Farming.


I farm as part of a family partnership in south east Cornwall, close to the Tamar Valley and in sight of Dartmoor Tors and England.


Family history and parish records show we have been farming within an eight-mile radius continually since the late 1600s, so we consider ourselves to be local.


The business extends to about 200 hectares growing OSR, barley, oats and wheat, which are all autumn-planted. Arable enterprises are complemented by a beef enterprise producing finished cattle from bought-in dairy calves.


Wherever you farm, challenges exist which must be overcome to maximise margins, but we do not all have the same issues. While many face an increasing problem in dealing with black-grass here in Cornwall, we are fortunately free of that problem and its associated costs at present. However, we have other problems to address.


Rainfall is becoming my biggest issue; there’s not a shortage of it, as those of you on light soils in the East struggle with, but a veritable abundance. Whatever your views on climate change one thing I am convinced of is our rainfall is increasing.

Average rainfall

During the ‘80s and early ‘90s our average rainfall was 1,218mm per year. Our last five-year average 2009-13 was 1,407mm, an increase of 15.5%, and results for this year will push that higher, with rainfall to end of November already at 1,510mm. The impact of this on our ability to complete crop operations in a timely manner is obvious, but it creates other management issues to deal with.


While I might be feeling smug I have no black-grass, I have battles to face against wet weather diseases such as septoria which can decimate both yield and grain quality.


Wherever you farm in the UK we share a common need for access to technology, to ensure we can deliver reliable yields of quality grain. Access to a critical part of that technology, plant protection products (PPPs), is under further review as legislative changes in the EU continue to be made.


The NFU launched its Healthy Harvest campaign at Cereals last year, drawing attention to the potential impact from the further loss of PPPs on UK food production. This has been followed and backed up with an independent report from Andersons which highlighted that 87 of the current 250 active ingredients are at risk from the cumulative effects of legislation reducing UK farming profit by £1.73 billion or 36%. Shortly before going to print, our concerns were substantiated by the AHDB report on the economic impacts of the endocrine disruptor definition review.


NFU lobbying in Europe over the potential impact and economic damage from the further removal of PPPs has resulted in Environment Directorate-General initiating a consultation on their endocrine disruptor definition. Current proposals would see a further loss of 57 key active ingredients out of the 87 classified as at risk by Andersons, with many prime triazole products under threat. On my farm, the loss of these products as part of a septoria control programme could be devastating.


The consultation is open until Friday, January 16, 2015, and I would urge all growers to engage with it and register their views. Our future cropping options and profitability will be shaped by the outcome of new legislation; make sure your voice is heard and you play your part.


  • Mike Hambly farms in a family farming partnership near Callington in south east Cornwall. He is currently the chair of the NFU Combinable Crops Board and is the first Cornishman to hold the position.


Farm facts

  • Family farming partnership, farming 200ha in south east Cornwall
  • Arable and beef enterprises
  • Arable cropping includes wheat, oilseed rape, barley, oats
  • Five year average rainfall is 1,407mm
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