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President's Blog - 28 August 2017

We are having a real ‘stop start’ harvest this year, and even when the ‘start’ happens, my travels round the country show that progress is very regional writes President Andrew McCornick.

This does, though, highlight the vulnerability of our arable sector. Regardless of how well the crop has been established, and how the growing season has gone, it is no good until it is in the barn and tradeable.

By this time, all the growing costs have been incurred, all the compliance has been met, and all the risk is in the growers’ business (or more likely out of their bank account).

The risk is also harder to manage with the removal of many of the plant protection products that have been in the toolbox for years and others under scrutiny.  We need to develop more of a risk-based strategy on these products rather than on perceived hazard.  We should regard this as one of the opportunities that may be presented by Brexit.

Now that I have ventured onto Brexit, there are risks involved in here that we must be aware of when we are pressing the politicians to get proper trade deals. We cannot overlook the need for support in our arable sector.  

It can be argued that our cereal growers are much closer to world market prices, suggesting that they are less exposed, and that trade with Europe and the rest of the world is very much a result of how well the home-grown harvest has gone.

Therein lies another issue.  A post-Brexit trading agreement with Europe, with ready access to buying and selling based on market needs, will not work if Europe provides support for its arable sector from the new CAP and we in the UK do not have an equivalent support package for our growers. That would be unacceptable. We must not be disadvantaged because of Brexit.

Should there be no agreement made, there is the potential of having to pay tariffs of around €90 on cereals exported and charging around €90 on imports. That may have a boost on our prices if we are in a balanced season or short, but it would be inflationary on prices for consumers, and no government would accept that outcome.

Another point to consider is if there is a move away from cereal production, because of poorer returns, what would the land be used for?   It may be “down corn, up horn” and the whole balance is tipped to the disadvantage of all sectors, right up to the top of the hill.
Fundamentally, we need our cereal farmers and the current position of our arable sector should be reviewed through the Brexit process.

We are farming under a market and regulation system that is meant for 28 Member States from the Mediterranean to the Arctic. This is the opportunity for us to drive CHANGE to get something designed for our needs and climate that also delivers a profitable, sustainable future.

In the short term though, can we have some sunshine and a fair wind please!      

Author: Andrew McCornick

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