Livestock Chairman Blog - 14 September 2018

As we approach the end of harvest for most, NFU Scotland Livestock Chairman Charlie Adam looks at how farmers can start to plan for not just next year but for several years to come.

Our NFUS ‘How do you plan’ campaign has resulted in proposed actions many of which have been taken up by both farmers and government in an effort to alleviate the consequences of the weather extremes of last winter and this summer for Scottish livestock farmers and crofters. Hopefully this will have lessened the challenge of getting through the coming winter for some, if not all of us.

Given that such weather extremes are thought likely to occur much more frequently in future years, as this campaign draws to a close it would be sensible to consider longer term changes which would increase resilience and leave us less vulnerable in future.

To some extent farming will always be a gamble in the face of the weather but there are things we might consider doing to tilt the odds in our favour. We want action taken to reduce volatility in prices paid for our produce but at the same time don’t adopt approaches which might reduce extremes in the cost and availability of feed and bedding. Long term arrangements with suppliers at a fair rate in both times of plenty and shortage rather than a rock bottom or sky high price, depending on who has the advantage, might benefit both sides in the long run.

We do not wait until the lights go out before ensuring power supplies and NFUS consistently argues that the same approach should apply with regard to the nation’s food security. I would suggest the same logic should be applied to our own supplies of vital inputs.
The economics of farming have forced many of us to push production to the limit in the interests of ‘efficiency’ but this approach can leave a business vulnerable in conditions such as those experienced recently. There is no ‘slack’ in the system to cope with a poor season and as many of us know to our cost, this can prove difficult, stressful and expensive if we’re caught out!

In short real ‘efficiency’ should perhaps include an element of resilience planning but this is only possible in an economic climate which enables us to put a bit of money or material by for a rainy (or sunny!) day and to invest in the necessary facilities and infrastructure to achieve that.

With Brexit potentially presenting an opportunity to reconsider the nature of farm support with increased emphasis on ‘helping us to help ourselves’, capital grants for measures such as improving livestock accommodation to reduce straw bedding use or investment in storage to enable feed to be purchased or stored to advantage in times of plenty would increase resilience and reduce the impact of anticipated future weather extremes.

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