As harvest begins, arable prices have fallen to their lowest levels for some years. “Farmers Weekly” figures for last week show feed wheat trading at around £132/t as compared to £162/t a year ago, and similarly feed barley trading at £107/t as compared to £140/t and Oilseed Rape at £235/t compared to £320/t.
In this area I have only seen winter barley being harvested to date although having been in Oxfordshire last Friday I did see combines rolling in the first fields of oilseed rape. It is too early to comment on crop yields but with prices where they are, farmers will need a bumper harvest to prevent significant losses.
Anecdotal evidence from the farmers I have spoken to indicate that although the crops look good, some have suffered from the very wet winter which has impacted yields, particularly on the wetter land while crops on more free draining land have fared better.
In addition to concerns over commodity prices and yields, farmers are also faced with another raft of decisions to be made concerning next year’s cropping which need to be addressed very soon. This is because next year will see the introduction of new rules for European support payments as the Single Payment Scheme is replaced by the new Basic Payment Scheme.
Allied to this scheme are a raft of new “greening measures” to which I have alluded in previous articles. These measures require arable farmers to observe new rules concerning crop diversification and the introduction of so called “Ecological Focus Areas” (EFAs).
Complying with these rules will be predictably complicated and what is clear is that farmers will need to make decisions very soon while the detailed rules are only just emerging. This is further complicated by the fact that the EFA rules will also impact on the payments received by some farmers under existing agri-environment schemes.
In addition many arable farmers who farm land on a “contract farming” basis will now need to treat these areas as a separate holding from their own land. This may sound simple to the uninitiated but it has the potential to threaten the viability of some long standing contract farming arrangements. As a consequence there will need to be detailed discussions between the landowner and contractor in the coming weeks if the payments due under landowner’s Basic Payment Scheme claim in 2015 are not to adversely be affected.
So, after a reasonably good run over the last few years arable farmers are faced with not only low commodity prices but also rule changes from Brussels which will make things more complicated and expensive with no obvious upside for anyone.
If farmers or landowners require advice on this matter they are welcome to contact James Stephen on 01749 683381.
James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells
T: 01749 683381