Farming

Farm incomes fall for third straight year

Agriculture must be fairly dealt with: Meurig Raymond
Agriculture must be fairly dealt with: Meurig Raymond

THE LATEST data on farm incomes, updated by Defra last week, shows overall farm incomes fell for the third consecutive year in 2015/16.

The strengthening pound (ahead of the Brexit vote) and falling prices compounded losses for some sectors.

However, within this there were some success stories. The figures – which give figures for the year to March 2016 – show that while cereal production, horticulture and general cropping performed better than expected, all other farm types performed poorly. Incomes from general cropping rose by over 20% on the year, to £62,900 and horticulture incomes rose by 11% to £35,100; cereal growers fared worse, with incomes falling to £35,600 (though this figure was better than expected).

All livestock sectors fared worse than expected, but pig producers took the biggest hit, with incomes more than halved, down to £22,000 due to increased input costs and oversupply. Dairy incomes were almost halved, too, down to £42,300, though some costs were also reduced, including purchased feed and forage.

Commenting on the figures, NFU President Meurig Raymond said they highlight the importance of the NFU’s lobbying ambitions in light of the Brexit vote.

The union president said: “The NFU is continuing to work with government to ensure they provide the right support for our members – from pushing for burdensome regulation to be removed that remains a major block to growing competitiveness for most farm businesses and policy decisions based on sound science.”

Discussing the prospects for environmental regulation post-Brexit at a meeting of the House of Lords’ Environment Sub-Committee on Friday (Oct 28), witnesses from conservation organisations noted that the UK Government’s own research aimed at identifying ‘red-tape’ (useless and constraining regulations) or ‘gold-plated’ regulation that went above the EU’s minimum standards had been hard pressed to identify any whatsoever. Lords who served on these red tape committees when the Coalition government came to power agreed with the witnesses and admitted that they had difficulty finding any such legislation.

Both groups’ observations rather invite the comment, ‘Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ and, in the case of conservation groups such as the RSPB and National Trust ignores their efforts to derail (successfully) those EU regulations which they felt were not in their own interests.

Nevertheless, on Friday, Mr Raymond continued: “These latest farm business income figures underline the need to ensure that British agriculture is dealt with fairly when Government starts its negotiations for a post-Brexit Britain. The most immediate issues confronting the farming sector are trade and access to labour – these must be at the heart of any discussions for the country’s future farm policy so that our industry is able to achieve its true potential.”

Commenting on some of the Union’s work to improve conditions for farmers in their supply chain, Mr Raymond added: “In recent weeks, we have focused on urging dairy processors to be open and honest in a bid to build better, fairer supply chain relationships and to ensure contracts that are fit for purpose. We regularly meet with retailers with recent successes on those signing our Fruit and Veg Pledge that will provide security for suppliers, fair terms and price certainty. We meet with banking leaders to ask for their continued support for the industry in these challenging times.”

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Dayne Stone

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