Bad weather could cost UK food production £1 billion

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Agriculture

The UK government's rural adviser, Lord Haskins, has described the
financial implications of this year's awful weather as being more
damaging to arable farming than the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak
was to the livestock industry.

Speaking on Radio 4's Farming Today on 27 August, Lord Haskins said it could cost farmers £1 billion, or £100 per acre. He added that it is worse for arable farmers as there is no compensation available.

In addition, the National Farmer's Union (NFU) estimates that while there are usually 25 working days in an average august, this year there have only been 10.

"We welcome the fact that a senior adviser to the Government is raising this very important issue at a time when many arable farmers are struggling to harvest their crops and, in extreme cases, having to abandon them altogether,"​ said National Farmer's Union (NFU) deputy president Peter Kendall.

"We recognise the point Lord Haskins is making, but it is too early to equate the current difficulties with the enormity of the foot-and-mouth outbreak."

However, Lord Haskins also said that it would be difficult for the UK government to step in. Farmers, he said, would have to carry the burden themselves.

In addition, the abolition of production subsidies next year means that farmers are likely to receive little help from Europe. Under European reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, from next year farmers will be paid for environmental stewardship of the land rather than subsidies for bulk production that produced huge surpluses.

As a result, the NFU claims that some arable farmers in the UK will face ruin if poor weather over the next two weeks stops the harvest of thousands of acres of wheat and other cereals. NFU president Tim Bennett told the UK's Financial Times​ that the industry must get used to new circumstances if it is to compete and survive.

"We now live in a world where the consumer has the ability to buy food from all over the world and the retailer will supply it,"​ he said. "I cannot compete against Brazilian beef because I have much tighter regulation, in terms of animal welfare and the environment. I have much greater costs on my business. I cannot produce the lowest price.

"We have 60 million consumers here, all of whom are getting wealthier. We are selling to the wealthiest bunch of people there have ever been. That means they are discerning, they like to have what they want and when they want it. We are close to that market.

"A 50-year experiment about telling people what to produce and giving them money to do it will end. In 2005, there will not be production support and farmers will be free to produce exactly what the market wants. I do not believe people fully grasp the importance of what is going on."

The NFU says that it is now looking at ways in which it can assist its members.

"There is still a window of opportunity open to us if all stakeholders pull together,"​ said Kendall. "As representatives of farming as a modern responsible business, the NFU is not calling for compensation at this stage, but we are urging farmers to help one another and the Government to join Lord Haskins in recognising the difficulties we are currently facing."

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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