Weekly Roundup: Milk, Wheat and Scotland’s Organic Plans

Scotland Introduces Organic Food Plan

“Organic Ambitions: An action plan for organic food and farming in Scotland 2016:2020” will be released at the Organic Research Centre’s annual Organic Producer’s Conference (which I sadly will not be attending this year owing to hobbitbaby). A flyer for the publication can be viewed here.

I will refrain from making obvious jokes about food and health and the Scots’ health record (though I can heartily recommend deep-fried haggis) and instead point you in the direction of this excellent video from the Scottish Organic Forum (SOF). In addition to all the information you’ll need for the time being, it also features a chap doing what I judge to be ‘Olsen P’ phosphorus analysis. Good grief, the memories. So many funnels…

Muller cuts milk prices

Just before Christmas I got an email informing me that I would forthwith be billed for my milk deliveries by Muller, because:

“Muller UK & Ireland Group LLP will acquire Dairy Crest’s Dairies business (including milk&more) on 26th December 2015.”

This week they announced that they will be cutting farmgate milk prices by 1p/litre from 15 February as it can no longer protect its suppliers from the “realities of the market”.

The UK dairy industry is in dire straits, and personally I have lost count of the number of farmers I’ve spoken to who have recently quit dairy farming (“Well… I was dairy, but now I farm beef”).

I buy my milk from milk&more to provide my milk man with a job, and provide business for a company that delivers food essentials to people unable to get out easily (e.g. my grandad).

But farmers deserve to be paid, and I might need to do some reconsidering.

2016 Wheat Prices

2015 saw bumper global wheat production, so prices were always going to need a helping hand. However, currently there is nothing doing.

According to Stuart Shiells in FW, factors affecting wheat prices are as follows:

Driving prices up:

  • Black Sea region (Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Romania) crops currently have good protective snow cover, but this could change.
  • Dry conditions in India and South Africa may reduce yields.

Driving prices down:

  • Surplus from 2015 is still on the market.
  • In the UK the weakening of Sterling improved competitiveness. If Sterling recovers, grain prices will suffer. And of course, this winter saw a fair few UK farmers unable to sow wheat due to flooding.

And of course, the oil prices which generally help predict other commodity prices, are currently abnormally low. So of course, much is still unknown.

In addition to this, a free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU came into effect on 1st January 2016. If you’re unaware, the yellow half of the Ukranian flag represents wheat – they produce rather a lot of it (there’s a reason it’s the ‘bread-basket’ of Russia). Of course this could also affect European wheat prices if it floods the market.

However, owing to a lack of technology to move grain to infrastructure links (and thus export it) this may not be too much of a worry. Olly Harrison of the NFU visited the country recently and blogged about it here – it’s worth a read.

Coca-Cola reformulates Life

Coca-Cola is changing the recipe of Coke Life after admitting half of consumers don’t understand what the product is according to The Grocer.

Unfortunately the article is subscription only and there appears to be little else online at the moment, so can’t give any more info. But watch this space.

And of course it’s lambing season…

If you know next-to-nothing about lambing, I recommend a read of the Sheepfold Farm books by Susan Williams. I read them as a kid and loved them. Granted a few mechanical things have changed, but sheep still conceive and birth in the same way at the same times of year. Plus it’s only 1p on Amazon; a good bedtime read.

 

Weekly roundup: Floods, Brexit and ‘flu

So, what’s happening in the world of UK agriculture this week?

Floods

Shocker: it’s been raining in the UK this winter.

Unfortunately, it’s been quite heavy, and as farmers are currently prohibited from dredging waterways on their land, the drainage ability of agricultural land has been compromised leading to some heart-rending consequences for farmers, e.g. cattle spending the night with water up to their bellies and sheep being simply washed away; and obviously farmers can’t drill crops into land covered by water.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced plans to allow farmers to dredge water courses on their land without need prior approval from the Environment Agency, though opinion is split amongst farmers.

A Farmers Weekly poll of 135 respondents showed that 59% were in favour of farmers being paid to “store” the flood water on their land to avoid flooding in more populated areas.

It reminds me of the same situation 2 years ago which resulted in many Politicians in Wellies Staring at Floods. It seems we have very short memories when it comes to these situations.

The ‘Brexit’ and agriculture

This is the biggie.

Last week at the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) the Defra secretary Liz Truss admitted that if the UK were to leave the EU there was currently no plan for agriculture. (Read her speech here)

With news this week that the Rural Payments Agency will fail to meet their target of paying 82-85% of claimants by the end of January, there are questions as to whether the government would manage agriculture any better than the EU currently does.

Opinion amongst farmers is mixed between hope for a more independent agricultural policy, and the view that the EU provides us with many markets, and it may be ‘better the devil you know’.

For a short video showing some personal views from farmers and industry spokespeople, see: fwi.co.uk/eu-exit-video

Bird ‘flu

A cull of 40,000 birds is underway at Craigie’s Poultry Farm in Dunfermline after discovery of a ‘mild’ strain of the H5N1 avian influenza, quite distinct from the pathogenic strain found previously. Three other cases have been reported in the UK in the past 14 months.

EU legislation on on-farm antibiotics

Draft EU legislation will make it compulsory for the use of on-farm antibiotics to be recorded, in an effort to combat microbial resistance to antibiotics. It is hoped this will lead to a centralised system, with the same recording protocols used in all parts of the livestock sector.