Farming sector counting cost of extreme weather

AFTER the driest spring for more than a century and almost the wettest year on record in the UK, plus temperature records broken across North America, Europe and Asia, NFU president Peter Kendall calls for fresh thinking from the Government on farm policy.

WE KNOW drought in the key production regions across the globe is the main driver for rocketing animal feed costs while in stark contrast at home, a washout summer further compounded by a sodden autumn and winter has hammered production.

Climate change scientists have long predicted that agriculture will face major challenges from global warming. However, 2012 has starkly demonstrated the cost that extreme weather events can wreak on farmers and the food supply chain.

The NFU estimates the appalling weather of 2012 has led to a financial black hole on Britain’s farms amounting to a staggering £1.3bn and as we entered 2013, many farmers were in areas under water or facing a double-whammy of huge feed bills for their livestock.

Global warming is commonly thought of as a series of small, incremental temperature rises. However, there is now growing evidence that the more immediate impact, at home and abroad, will be in the form of extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy and the midwestern drought in the US, or the persistent flooding across much of England and Wales.

We have seen how these events can have a devastating effect on populations around the world. But extreme weather will certainly also require fresh thinking from agricultural policy makers and the whole food supply chain to ensure that our farmers can adapt and our food supply is resilient.

So how do we do this? To start, better relationships and sharing of risk in the supply chain will help farmers plan in these volatile and uncertain times. The appointment of the Grocery Supply Code of Practice Adjudicator in early 2013 will be a really positive move, helping to root out bad practice in the supply chain.

And we’re seeing evidence of positive moves by retailers to create meaningful long-term relationships with farmers. Both will help provide much greater security of supply to consumers.

In 2013 we are likely to see the conclusion to protracted negotiations for both the EU budget and a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. The NFU has never seen money as the only answer to the challenges faced by farmers operating in an increasingly uncertain world. And certainly during these straitened economic times we have not argued for the CAP to be exempt from cuts.

However, we have urged the Government to help to make current, distorted markets work properly and to ensure our farmers are treated fairly.

In years like 2012 it is very clear to see that the support farming receives from the CAP is an absolute lifeline to many farmers. If there is to be a reduction in these payments it should take place evenly across Europe’s single market.

Already an English dairy farmer, on a typical 100-hectare farm, receives 20,000 a year less than a Danish or Dutch competitor. This has to stop.

Recently, we have heard Government representatives refer to these support payments as “worthless”, arguing that payments should only go to environmental goals. With the possible exception of Sweden, the UK Government is the only one out of 27 member state countries in the EU arguing in this way. I firmly believe the only likely outcome of this strategy is further discrimination against English farmers. What is more, this ideologically-driven approach is outdated given the increasing volatility in global prices and the challenging global climate.

In a new year that is likely to be critical in terms of agricultural policy it would be helpful if ministers could explain how they think English farmers can face the challenge of more hostile weather events with only a fraction of the support given to their closest competitors in Europe?

Farmers generally remain optimistic for the longer-term, but this will be a crucial year when the building blocks for a secure food supply and resilient farming sector are put in place.

Our industry is well-placed to help deliver jobs and growth in 2013, but in the long-term we need fresh thinking that builds confidence and resilience for meeting one of society’s greatest challenges; feeding a growing population in a smarter, more sustainable way.

 
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