Vice President's Blog - 13 July 2018

It's incredible the difference the weather makes to not only the practice of farming and crofting but also to the moral of all those who are involved. The past few weeks have been a world apart from where we were late last summer to spring 2018.

For all sectors of agriculture, the serious implications the weather has from waterlogged fields, inability to secure enough straw, lack of availability of winter fodder, right through to some of the worst livestock losses ever seen.  All have a serious financial effect on the business and, possibly more importantly, a serious effect on the health and wellbeing of many.

The difference now from what we've just come through is quite stark.  Many are now worried of a serious shortage of winter feeding and bedding due to the hot dry weather, especially as there's certainly no carry over from last year.

That is why, this week, NFU Scotland have launched a campaign - #NFUSHowDoYouPlan - to raise awareness of the situation.  Unless things change dramatically over the next few weeks then there is every chance we could be faced with animal welfare issues.

There are obvious concerns about the availability of straw for the livestock sector and we would urge cereal producers to switch the choppers off on the combine this year – recognising that for this to happen the straw price must exceed the benefits that straw incorporation provides and accounts for the risk of not getting fields cleared quick enough to get the next crop in on time.

There is also the option of wrapping the straw and then treating it to provide an alternative for fodder.  This can make it easier to run closer to the combine.  

The days of very cheap straw, to my mind, are gone and although as a livestock producer this will be an extra cost, the availability of the product is more important.  If there is enough available and the price is fair, then everyone's happy. A happy medium is what is required where everyone gets a fair kick at the ball.

Draff is now harder to come by due to alternative uses for the product, but many people still seem able to forward contract an amount well in advance if the price is reasonable. So again, we would urge those in the distilling industry to try and make the product available to the livestock sector if possible.

The three key points we are urging all to consider are;

  1. Plan ahead. Think about the situation early enough to try and avoid any problems later this year or next spring.
  2. Look at alternatives. Whether it be for feeding or bedding.
  3. Collaboration. Speak to your neighbour to see if you can do something together.  Your local feed merchant will also have many contacts and will be well placed to use their experience to help source the right products.

This is going to be a year where everyone in the whole industry can play a part in trying to avert something that may have an irreversible impact on Scotland’s rural economy.

Scottish farmers and crofters have always been very resilient and can handle most things thrown at them, but this year may just test that resilience to the limit.  So, let's all try and work together and prove to everyone out there that agriculture in Scotland does have the ability to adapt and evolve to any situation provided the tools are available to do so.

All sectors of agriculture need each other and it's the whole industry that must be put first and foremost when it comes to post-Brexit agricultural policy.

We've been given a chance here to get this right so let's take the politics out of it and devise a policy that's best suited for the whole of Scotland.

There are many uncertainties and worries around the corner, but for the immediate future, what we can enjoy is some really good weather.  It doesn't happen that often!

Author: Martin Kennedy

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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin Vice President of NFU Scotland and is a tenant farmer in Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters, Jillian, Katrina and Yvonne. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to over 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire branch chairman, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin then went on to be vice chairman then chaired the committee for three years. He has served as Vice President of NFUS for two years and is currently sitting on his third.

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