July 2015: The problem of having a strong economy

When you have done weighing, you have done selling” is another well-known adage in these parts, and I suppose at one time it carried a bit of weight. Will it still apply to cereals? Normally a decent yield of feed wheat more or less covers its cost, but not at the moment, given where prices are.

If many think that, there will be some who’ll plump for quality with a lesser yield. That should mean a higher price in that sector, but there’s always a risk of possible rejection, which means it’ll go on the feed heap anyway, with a lower yield to boot. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Many pig farmers are now able to take their pigs heavier through leaner, quicker-growing genotypes and, of course, continual improvement in management systems, so the adage might still apply there – and possibly with lamb and beef also, along with higher milk yields. However, in some people’s eyes, quality is seen to come from lighter weights, so whoever is into that scenario, let’s hope the premium is sufficient to warrant having a smaller carcase.

I recently spoke to a neighbouring farmer who’d installed a robotic milking set-up that worked well. Even with that in place, his costs were 25p/lit. For 80% of his milk he was receiving 20p (minus the 2p levy), and for the remaining 20% he was receiving 16p/lit less the levy. Enough was enough, and the unit has now been mothballed.

Let’s hope we don’t have any piggeries that need to be stood idle. The price war in the supermarkets might be good for the general public, but don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

We expect that having a strong economy would be good for everyone in the UK, but it’s not for farming. It makes exports a lot dearer, and opens the door to cheaper imports. The only people it will help are those who manufacture items made here.

I know the major retailers swear they use British pork – and yes, a lot do – but had they done that all along, we would still be a lot more self-sufficient than we are, and wouldn’t have needed a lot of imports.
When Pig World started, we were something like 50% self-sufficient in bacon and 105% in pork. I shudder to think what percentage we’re at in total now – a lot less than half. That doesn’t bode well as the economy continues to strengthen.

Having re-jigged my “greening” to attempt to comply with even more red tape, I had two “courtesy calls” from Natural England in May to remind me to have my form returned by June 12, or face the prospect of having 1% deducted for every day it was late. It isn’t so much the fact that we’ve so much damned red tape, it’s the threatening manner in which the people involved write it, and they obviously have nothing better to do in the meantime.

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About The Author

Sam Walton is a Yorkshire farmer and former pig producer, and the founding editor of Pig World.