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Farming through a crystal ball; It may be like looking into a crystal ball but whatever a farmer thinks the face of agriculture is, they are going to have to adapt and look at maximising all of their individual assets in order to remain profitable. This is the message from ANDREW JAMIESON, agricultural adviser with H&H Land and Property.


FOR farmers not only is the weather is changing and becoming more unpredictable but the market in which they operate in is changing at pace.

On a daily basis the world seems to get a smaller place with global influences impacting directly on UK farmer's commodity price and also the cost of agricultural inputs.

While it is difficult to predict what we will be farming in 10 years' ' time, the jokes about growing rice in the UK maybe look more realistic based on this year weather patterns.

So what do we know? Population growth within our lifetime threatens to overtake the ability to compensate for it with developments of agricultural yield potential and could leave a gulf in the ability of the world to feed its population. While farmers and scientists alike are working hard to breed new varieties which are less disease susceptible and with greater yield potential, population growth is now at such a rate that it may exceed the possible advances, especially when coupled with the loss of land required to house the growing population.

What it comes down to is ensuring supermarket shelves are full and that farmers are not losing out in the process.

Farming needs to remain profitable, however having been consistently hindered in the last few years by inclement weather and policy changes, the future of the industry faces a number of uncertainties.

If this year's weather has illustrated anything to farmers it will be the importance of soil structure and drainage.

I certainly have not experienced such downpours and flooding in my lifetime. Untold damage will have been done in some parts in attempting to harvest corn, silage or even feed livestock causing damage. It may take years for farms to recover from this devastating season and after seeing poor returns on crops farmers will be faced with further repercussions following the extreme rainfalls.

Many farms I visit have a system of ditches designed to carry water away from filled drains which for years have received very little attention. As a result the capacity of the drainage system has significantly reduced over the years. This year will have illustrated that the system does not have the capacity required to carry the volume of water we are now experiencing. With ditches full, field drainage systems have been unable to release water and flooding has resulted. Having had two bad summers in fairly close succession now really is the time to put the drainage systems back in order With forage stocks in short supply careful management of stock will be required throughout the winter period, the difficulty will be estimating the length and type of the winter we are set to face. However, making adjustments now to the feed rations will stretch the available feed further and give some consistency of diet to animals over the period. This will be especially important for spring calving cows and for sheep lambing in the early part of spring. They will require a rising plane of nutrition as they come up to calving/lambing to ensure viable calves/lambs are born and plenty of milk is available. Following on from the wet summer, key mineral and nutrient levels within the animals may be lower than normal and care will be required to manage grass staggers and milk fever.

Following on from these issues it seems difficult therefore to comprehend the proposals on the European top table which are set to negatively impact on productive agricultural land as part of the "greening" proposals currently being actively discussed. The whole theme of the CAP reform is centred on making European farmers more competitive while delivering more value for money to tax payers on the whole.

But at farm gate level what does this mean? The proposals do not look to return subsidy support to the days of production based support mechanisms based on headage etc. They seem set to reward only those who are actively farming land. Rightly or wrongly within the current scheme rules, there are various mechanism which allow non-active farmers to claim entitlements on bare "naked acres" preventing those who occupy the land from receiving the subsidy they deserve. This is counterproductive to the development of farms and farm businesses in the UK and presents a massive hurdle to those youngsters wishing to set out on the long road of occupying and farming land.

The European Commission is looking to design a mechanism to prevent non-active farmers claiming land through cleverly-worded occupation agreements, and ensure those who claim are actively involved in the associated risk of farming the land in question. However, the current proposal actually has proven dangerous to those looking to progress their businesses in what is now an interim period as we approach the end of the current scheme. The problem revolves around uncertainty and issues arising from the eligibility to establish entitlements under the new CAP scheme based on the reference claim year of 2011.

Currently, to be eligible to make a claim in 2014 or 2015 (ie, first year of the scheme) you will have had to make a claim in 2011 on at least 1ha of land. For many this will of course not be a problem, but for others some careful thought and vision will be required. For example, if two brothers are set to inherit their father''s farm and have decided to farm it as separate businesses going forward. In theory only one brother could take the golden ticket from his father by effectively continuing the business already claiming and be eligible to establish entitlement.

The other would need to take his chance in the as yet unknown national reserve type set-up to try to gain entitlement over his land.

The impact on both businesses going forward would be significant. Should anyone be considering substantial changes to their business structures it has never been more important to look forward and take advice on how to minimise the risk of losing the ability to receive subsidy support.

So with the new subsidy scheme aimed at competitive farming what else can be done on farm to make the most of what you have? With market controls in place across many sectors of agriculture most forward-thinking farmers are looking at cost control instead of increased income. Efficiency of production will be the key to future profitability; this can begin as efficient use of land to include proactive management of woodland or harnessing renewable energy potential.

But at grass roots level, innovation will play an increasingly important role. Variable rate fertiliser application coupled with GPS systems improve accuracy. Computer recorded yield maps and soil conductivity analysis will help to identify more accurately how soils structure and nutrient content are influencing crop performance. GPS linked to sprayers will prevent overspray and reduce chemical usage. Huge advances have also been made within the dairy industry increasing milking speed, cow welfare and management efficiencies, with robotic milking becoming more commonplace.

Innovation ultimately requires investment but small changes can really make a difference. Utilise subsidy payments while they are available and look into grant schemes to help reduce investment cost. Accurate forecasting and assessment will allow farmers to see if the investment will really make a difference once quantified, help achieve cost efficiencies and ultimately improve business profitability.

Opportunities are out there and farm diversification and the renewables sectors are proposing both money making and money saving opportunities for farms and rural businesses. All is not lost in the world of agriculture and with the continued efforts of our farmers, breeders, scientists and perhaps a helping hand from government agencies we can look beyond the current issues facing agriculture and with optimism for a brighter future.

For more information contact Andrew Jamieson at H&H Land and Property on 01228 406260.

What it comes down to is ensuring supermarket shelves are full and that farmers are not losing out in the process


BENEFITS Andrew Jamieson, above, of H&H Land and Property, says that with market controls in place across many sectors of agriculture, forward-thinking farmers are looking at cost control instead of increased income and efficiency of production will be key to future profitability
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 5, 2012
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