Comment: Farming’s fodder shortage crisis must be a wake-up call

Amy Morrison, a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and county adviser for the West Riding at the National Farmers' Union.
Amy Morrison, a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and county adviser for the West Riding at the National Farmers' Union.
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The weather over the past six months has been testing to say the least.

With the long and cold winter and spring, farmers have struggled to apply nitrogen to their waterlogged crops and livestock had to be kept in and fed the reserves that would be needed for this coming winter.

Now we have seen the driest spell in years which has hindered yields and grass growth. 

Yields across the county have been extremely variable with barley ranging from 2.5t/ac- 4.75t/ac and wheat 2.5t/ac-5.5t/ac. 
Vegetable growers are also suffering with the increased cost from irrigation to not being able to irrigate at all due to abstraction rules. 

Livestock farmers, particularly in West Yorkshire, have not seen the bit of rain we have had over the past week and are having to feed their first cut of silage with many not managing to have cut their second. 
They are now looking forward to this winter wondering what on earth they are going to do.

It has been good to hear, however, when talking to some West Riding NFU members (a slight plug there as they are my employer!) that they are drilling stubble crops and sowing grass before spring barley as a direct result of the fodder shortage and wanted to be able to help in some way. 

This weather, however, has not just hit the UK, Europe is suffering badly from the drought and eastern Australia even more so. 

I read that for one Australian farmer their last purchase of hay cost A$19,000 – a load they ‘hope’ to stretch out over a week. 

Another, a single truckload cost A$4,000 which will last less than a day for their 850 head of cattle – incredible.

This should be a wake-up call to Government. Whilst imports from different climates are needed, it is dangerous to presume that the UK’s food security can be replaced by imports. 

This presumption could be a contributing factor to the UK’s self-sufficiency in food, dropping to 61 per cent in 2017, a steady decline over the past 30 years from 78 per cent.  

We are trading on a global market, a market which is highly competitive and heavily influenced by weather, politics, volatility and export bans by some countries which can all disrupt international supply. 

Therefore, UK farmers need to be able to maximise the food that can be produced domestically, food that they produce to the highest standards in the world. 

It has long been seen that the environment and farming go hand in hand and it shouldn’t be forgotten the environmental benefits that are derived from farming. I feel that this was possibly not reflected in the recent Defra consultation. 

As it has been said many times since the consultation, you can’t be green if you’re in the red. 

Our Government needs to look very closely as they replace the EU’s Common agricultural Policy with the domestic agricultural policy to ensure it supports and develops British farming so that it enables UK farmers to do what they do best, produce high quality food. 

Amy Morrison is a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and the county adviser for Yorkshire West Riding area at the National Farmers’ Union. She is based at the NFU’s regional office in York.