NFU comment: Bumper harvest, but low prices – a year of contrasts

George Gittus (chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers' Union) is pictured at Symonds Fa

George Gittus (chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers' Union) is pictured at Symonds Farm in Risby. - Credit: Archant

Looking back on 2015 from a farming perspective it would be easy to sound like the all-too expected moaning farmer.

It would not be without justification as we saw farmgate prices for virtually everything that we grow and produce hit 10 year lows. We saw and still see milk sold well below cost of production and indeed below the cost of water. OK, the main cause of this is three bumper harvests here and around globe. This has meant that everyone’s stores are full and the grass produced an abundance of milk. Then there is the Russian ban on imports of food from any country that imposed sanctions upon them for invading/annexing the Crimea. The slow-down in China’s economy has meant that they are importing less food. With both of these countries buying less there has been even more surplus weighing down the commodity prices. The joys of an ever freer global market place and economy. What was for most a good UK harvest yield-wise did therefore go some way to offsetting these low prices, thankfully.

The weather in East Anglia has for the main part been good for farming throughout 2015. The exceptionally mild winter so far has yet to cause too many issues but there is nervousness about what may be to follow. Those with orchards and fruit bushes need a good number of frost events to give them the prospect of a good 2016. For the arable farmers the crops are getting very lush and forward so they will not be thankful if we get a severe cold snap.

The political environment has been no less fraught. The government’s policy to use the newly reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Basic Payment Scheme as its first big digital-by-default programme. What a disaster. In the end we had to revert back to a paper application having been gradually and successfully moving across to online under the old scheme. The whole regime is now horrendously over-complicated and ties farming businesses up in even more unnecessary red tape. How it can ever be called the “Basic” Payment Scheme I will never know. It is forcing UK farming further away from being able to compete in the global marketplace that on the other hand our political masters are expecting us to do.

What of 2016? Sadly, commodity prices are unlikely to bounce back unless we see either a major bad weather event or a political one. It is very hard to have to think that the only way your situation is going to improve is off the back of someone else’s misfortune. Farmers are forever optimists as otherwise who in the right mind would plant crops or mate animals for a sale many months hence when prices are at the decade long lows that they are now? I hope that all will remember that because, unless we do, the world could go short of one of its vital resources, namely food.