Comment: Crop prices offer too little sunshine

The cereal harvest is just weeks away.
The cereal harvest is just weeks away.
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WITH THE nation’s cereal harvest now just weeks away, arable farmers from across the land take a couple of days away from the farm every year to attend Cereals – the main industry event for our sector.

It’s always a good opportunity to meet people from all over and get a sense of the mood ahead of the year’s finale when the combines roll. It’s also my chance to catch up on the latest developments – there are always some amazing bits of kit on show.

My farming business is quite diverse. I’m a tenant of Harewood Estate, but I also own some land and farm a bit more on a contract farming basis.

My main crop is milling wheat – top quality wheat needed to make bread.

So far this year I am a happy farmer because the crops are looking good having had sufficient rain and some sunshine, and being an optimist, which you have to be to stay sane as a farmer, I hope therefore the price of wheat will improve.

The reality though is that wheat is now worth half what it was in 2012.

Prices currently are where they were in 1995, but like everyone else, my costs have doubled since then. This means that the price I get now does not cover the cost of growing the crop.

The worry that this causes was clear to see at Cereals. We hope for a good harvest and while the sun keeps shining we keep smiling but underneath we know we are facing a cash flow crisis with overdraft limits likely to be seriously breached.

Because of the quality required from milling wheat, I hope to receive a premium but this too varies widely.

In bumper years with high yields, premiums can all but disappear, turning the extra costs into a loss.

I am lucky to have a good relationship with my grain merchant based on my track record. He needs to ensure supply for his customers and so will guarantee a minimum premium provided my grain meets the quality standards.

This gives me the confidence to grow it knowing my costs will be covered as long as I do my job properly and keep my fingers crossed that the weather behaves.

It all boils down to the fact that the next few weeks will be crucial for all Yorkshire’s arable farmers, who produce food not just for us all but for wildlife too.

Some 20,000 acres of flowers are grown every year for pollinators and 30,000 acres of food is grown for farmland birds. I’m proud of that record and do my bit with special skylark plots in my wheat fields. These are fallow areas that help skylarks rear a second brood of chicks each year and we certainly have a lot of them. The sound of them singing as they soar high in the sky is one of the most heart-lifting sounds of summer.

Being a farmer is complicated. I love the job – growing crops and trying to get them to their full potential. I enjoy the variety and love being outside.

It’s when I spend time in the office that I realise things are far from rosy.

I know I am hugely fortunate to be a farmer but I also have to make a living and at the moment that is proving difficult.

So to anyone reading this please take in the spectacle of harvest, try and watch the BBC’s harvest programme when it goes on air and support your local farmers wherever possible.

It’s easy to do – simply look for the Red Tractor.

Peter Trickett farms at Wike near Leeds and is a member of the National Farmers’ Union.