Farm sector has reasons to be cheerful

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DESPITE rampant bureaucracy, greedy supermarkets and economic gloom, the prospects for farming look good, according to the new regional director of the NFU.

Barney Kay, who took over the hot seat in the York office at the end of July, says in his Christmas message:

“Overall, it’s been a good year. On the livestock side beef and lamb prices have been healthy, in part due to lower levels of imports. The arable sector has seen a largely positive year although many will wish they had known beforehand that the dry spell wasn’t set to last in the North East. With the rain came higher yields than expected and I’ve spoken to many who wished they had made the most of healthy forward prices earlier in the year. And as so often happens when farm prices increase, a corresponding rise in input costs for fuel, fertiliser and animal feed, definitely knocks the shine off.

“Other sectors have continued to struggle, with dairy producers receiving the lowest farmgate price in Europe for much of the year and egg producers seeing prices tumble thanks to market turmoil in the run-up to the ban on conventional cages.

“Over recent months, farmers’ thoughts have understandably turned to the current review of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy from 2014. To say the proposals put forward by the European Commission were a disappointment would be putting it mildly. They have the bureaucrats’ grubby little fingerprints all over them. However well intended the environmental proposals are, in reality they are likely to create environmental damage as farmers try to avoid getting trapped in market distorting measures.

“These CAP discussions are taking place against a backdrop of massive uncertainty for the eurozone. Although the treaty that underpins the Common Agricultural Policy should not be affected by the new agreement between eurozone countries and those that are content to sign up to greater European federalism, if nothing else the current uncertainty will almost certainly have an impact on the timetable for implementation. It was already an ambitious target to have these proposals signed off by 2014, especially when MEPs have the chance to vote on the proposals for the first time and a number of MEP groups will not take part in CAP discussions until the EU budget has been signed off.

“Add into the mix a retail price war precipitated by Tesco and we have some fairly uncertain times ahead for the agricultural industry. I don’t believe the current battle to prove who is the cheapest will actually deliver greater value to the consumer. What it may achieve is reduced consumer choice as some products and brands fold under unsustainable price pressure.

“Some of the first to feel this pressure have been the horticultural sector – with many producers dealing directly with retailers. We are already hearing of companies being asked to absorb significant cuts. The government has no appetite to challenge the trend, with their concerns over inflation, and with tighter livestock numbers in the UK and our key importing nations, it will be abattoirs and processing companies that initially will feel the squeeze. I wouldn’t be surprised to see further rationalisation amongst those middle men next year.

“Despite all this, the underlining trends are positive, thanks to a growing world population and growing recognition of the importance of values that don’t revolve purely around price.”

Go local, urges CLA director

Dorothy Fairburn, regional director of the CLA, chose ‘shop local’ as her Christmas message.

She said: “My message is: avoid the traffic queues and packed pavements and explore what’s on offer in your local farm shop, village store, farmers’ market or traditional, independent shops. We also want rural dwellers to enjoy visits to local pubs and eat in local cafes and restaurants as part of their celebrations – not forgetting, of course, to Just Ask if the food they are being served is locally sourced.

“Buying local enterprise helps to maintain local jobs and employ local people.”