Cabinet Secretary Sees Weather’s Effects on Farming

SCOTLAND, UK - NFU Scotland members William and Anna Thomson hosted a visit from Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead on Thursday, 6 December 2012, at their farm in East Lothian.
calendar icon 11 December 2012
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The Thomsons showed Mr Lochhead how the ongoing poor weather is hampering farm operations and, along with NFUS office bearers, discussed ways of helping farms cope.

The unprecedented wet summer and autumn of 2012 continue to affect Scotland’s farmers, their land and their businesses in a variety of ways. Particularly noteworthy are reduced income from lower yields; costs of upgrading machinery to cope with wet, heavy soils; postponing planting winter crops to the spring; the inability to spray crops in order to protect them, and loss of planting area as land is waterlogged.

NFUS reiterated the measures that could alleviate this year’s pressures and help farmers prepare for unpredictable and extreme weather. These include funding to improve drainage; banking arrangements to manage cashflow; flexibility on spreading slurry and manure; developing crop varieties that are resistant to poor weather, pests and diseases; collective approaches to storing, drying and handling crops; and encouraging retailers to share the risk of poor crop performance and show flexibility where quality does not meet expected standards because of extreme weather.

Evidence for these kinds of measures was drawn from NFU Scotland’s weather survey, which prompted hundreds of responses from its members across Scotland.

Andrew Moir, NFUS Combinable Crops Committee Chairman said: “Today’s meeting was not just about the difficult summer. We’ve had three wet summers on the trot and while crops that have been planted are not growing as they should, the effects of 2012 will be felt well into next year. While NFUS can’t do much about the weather, we continue to work on a number of projects to help Scottish farmers cope with it. Our recent weather survey, which attracted nearly 500 responses from farmers across Scotland has been very helpful in informing our activity in this area as members across all sectors identified what, in particular, would be of most use to them in dealing with the ongoing weather.

“We have seen recent success as one of Scotland’s major banks announced measures to help its farming customers and we are maintaining pressure on other banks to do the same. This week, the UK Government took further steps to strengthen the hand of the Grocery Code Adjudicator, soon to be appointed, who will supervise the grocery supply chain, hopefully ensuring that retailers treat suppliers fairly, especially in circumstances such as these where, despite best efforts, yields may be down and quality impaired.

“The next SRDP could play a major role in helping Scottish farming become more resilient to prolonged bad weather by introducing schemes, particularly to help with drainage. We impressed upon the Cabinet Secretary the need to make long-term resilience across all sectors a priority when designing the next Programme, a project in which NFUS is already deeply involved.

“In the political realm, EU decision-makers continue to thrash out the next Common Agricultural Policy in Brussels, which could have a major impact on Scottish arable, fruit and vegetable farmers, determining what they can grow and where. We simply must have a framework that recognises what farmers are already doing to protect the environment, lets them produce food and maintain profitable businesses.

“For combinable crops, science is at our right hand in this regard; farmers are adopting ever more scientifically sophisticated practices, for example, so-called ‘precision farming’ allows a farmer to apply fertilisers and plant protection products in an optimal fashion, minimising wastage. Governments must support scientific research into resistant varieties and other means of helping farmers to produce food, even in extreme weather. The spread of ash dieback has pointed to a worrying lack of plant pathologists, which must be addressed.

“At the meeting, local potato farmer James Logan described in detail the difficult conditions he and fellow growers have experienced in lifting their crop and reduced yield volume and quality. Despite initial positive noises about supporting UK farmers, most retailers have not been sympathetic about producer problems and continue to sell potatoes on special offer – paid for by the producer – and to import stock from elsewhere. Contracts with packers and retailers have a major role to play in helping to keep potato businesses profitable and NFUS is fully behind the Potato Council’s plans to hold an industry summit early in 2013 to sort this out.”

William Thomson of Wheatrig Farm, near Longniddry, who hosted the visit, said: “The terrible summer and autumn weather of 2012 has affected all sectors of Scottish agriculture. Within the arable sector, this manifested itself in the worst year, in terms of yield and quality, in my 20 years of farming experience.

“This means that budgeted income and cash flow projections have fallen well short of target and some serious costs have been incurred. Not only that, but the legacy of this year's weather will be reduced winter cropping, affecting yield and income in 2013. This will have a knock on effect for the livestock industry which represents our largest customer base.

“The waterlogged soils on the farm aren't allowing crops to achieve their potential; those that have been sown are suffering from attacks from pests such as slugs and because of field conditions it's proving harder than ever to get onto the fields to treat them.

“Whereas last year's income would have allowed me to invest in such things as field drainage, this year farm investments of all types are much harder to afford.”

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