Crisis looming for Scottish cereal farmers

Sep 06, 2015 12:00 AM

Scottish cereal farmers could be facing catastrophe after being hit by a perfect storm of difficult conditions in the latest blow to Britain’s beleaguered farming sector.

The cold, wet summer has seen an increase in pests and diseases, slower ripening of crops, poor-quality produce and low yields in many places.

This has been compounded by depressed global market prices, driven down as a result of bumper crops south of the Border and an abundance of leftover stocks from last year’s record harvest.

Now the fate of the growers is at the mercy of nature and all they can do is wait. They need a spell of good weather to have any hope of getting the produce off the fields dry with the next ten days “critical” for crops.

This comes just weeks after dairy farmers, including Scottish producers, campaigned against the low prices paid to them by supermarkets by dumping milk at checkouts and food banks.

Some farmers claim they are being paid just 15p a litre for their milk, when it costs 24p to produce.

“If the weather in September for harvesting the spring-planted crops continues in the same vein as the last couple of months, with rain and lack of sunshine, then the consequences for cereal growers in these parts will be catastrophic,” said Ayrshire farmer Andrew Glover, a regional vice-chairman for NFU ­Scotland.

Gavin Dick, Scotland manager for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, said: “In a year of low prices farmers can weather the storm if they get good yields and good conditions where they don’t have high costs.

“This year things are moving in the wrong way. Yields are less than last year, drying charges are going to be higher, the price is lower and on top of that comes the challenge in actually getting the crops in off the fields because of the weather.

“Everything is against them this year, whereas last year saw better prices, we saw very high yields and very good harvest conditions so the costs were kept down.”

Agriculture is worth around £800 million a year to the Scottish economy, but it is feared the recent tough conditions could drive some out of the industry.

Perthshire farmer Ian Sands, combinable crops chairman for NFU Scotland, said: “Farmers are pretty resilient people but many will have to make adjustments and there may be people who think enough is enough.

“If we have another year like this next year I think there will be casualties.

“Some will be able to weather a couple of bad years but there will be others who have had as much as they can take and can’t – or don’t want to – carry on, or the banks won’t let them.”

Many farmers on the east coast are reporting business as usual, however, crops in the north and west have been devastated by above-average rainfall.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government recognises that poor weather conditions are impacting production, which will hit farm incomes and create difficulties during the winter months.

“We are committed to supporting the sector.”

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