Saturday, 18 June 2011

 From Revd Nick Read OBE , Agriculatural Chaplain Diocese of Hereford

June Briefing 2011

Bovine TB update

A BBC commissioned poll suggests that 63% of the population are against a badger cull to help to control bovine TB, and this is true in both rural and urban areas. Defra has indicated that it will make a decision by the end of July. The industry has commented that it is unclear how much of the scientific evidence was available to inform those contacted for the poll. Following the recent elections in Wales it is not yet clear whether the new minister will continue with the planned cull of badgers within a designated area of west Wales.

 Cost benefits of the countryside

Defra has embarked on a UK National Ecosystem Assessment which attempts, amongst other things, to put a monetary figure on the value of the natural environment to people. According to the study the UK countryside provides the country with benefits worth more than £30bn a year. For example, the health benefits of living with a view of a green space are estimated to be worth £300 per person per year. The study also found that some ecosystems were getting better at delivering services but others, such as the diversity of wild species and soil quality, were in decline. The findings of the assessment are helping to shape the Natural Environment White Paper which is in preparation.

 Commodity markets

20 of the world’s leading agricultural ministers are meeting in June to discuss proposals to limit speculation in commodity markets, thereby reducing price volatility and improving food security. Many buyers of food on the world market are purely financial players with no link to agriculture, which has led to devastating price fluctuations for farmers, or has priced food out of the reach of the poorest people. However the commodities trade is reacting against the proposals suggesting that the market is a better guarantor of food security than government intervention.

 Farm rents

Average farm rents have risen by 25% in the last year according to a study by Land Agents Smiths Gore. The rents are rising on the back of rises in commodity prices. The average rent for all farms in England, Wales and Scotland is £70/acre. The highest rents tend to be on arable farms, which average £99/acre. Some landlords are beginning to explore models where rents are linked to an external mechanism such as wheat prices.


There is continuing concern over the lack of rainfall following the driest Spring for more than 100 years. April saw only 24% of average rainfall. It is feared that stunted crops on lighter soils may no longer be capable of recovering even if it does rain significantly and it is estimated that up to 85% of the UK’s cereal crops have been affected so far, with 20% of winter wheat and barley being “severely” affected. Provided there is sufficient moisture during grain fill yields may not be too badly affected, perhaps a 5% reduction overall, but in severely hit areas it is predicted that yields could be down by 40%.

 Concerns about the drought across northern Europe have already pushed malting barley prices up by over 30/tonne during May. November feed wheat prices reached almost £200/tonne during trading in May though reports of good crops from Australia and India and the prospect of resumed exports from Russia and the Ukraine pushed the price lower again. Nevertheless both French and German harvest expectations have been downgraded, whilst in the US cold, wet weather has affected spring maize plantings.

The NFU is maintaining a fodder bank scheme to help farmers with shortages of cattle feed and bedding by helping them source supplies from those with surplus requirements. NFU members can log on to

 Draft legislation on supermarket ombudsman

The publication of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill on 24th May was a major step in a decade-long campaign to have an independent ombudsman to oversee relations between producers and the major supermarkets.  However, its success is thought to hinge on the measures within any code to guarantee anonymity for farmers who bring complaints against supermarket buyers. Anecdotally, it is thought that many producers do not produce evidence of mistreatment for fear of contractual reprisals. The draft Bill indicates that there will be fines for supermarkets that breach the groceries supply code of practice, but that these can only be imposed with the agreement of the secretary of state. Although the draft Bill has been published it is not yet clear when an ombudsman would be in place.

Nutrient status of organic food

A report by Newcastle University claims that organic food contains more nutrients, and especially vitamin C, than conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. It also claims that eating organic food helped people to burn fat more quickly, aiding weight loss and improving health. The report will be published in the next issue of a Journal “Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences.”

After thirteen years as Agricultural Chaplain in Hereford Diocese Nick will be leaving the church’s employment in August to become Development Manager of the Bulmer Foundation, a local charity based in Hereford with a remit of promoting sustainable living, including sustainable land-use policies. Hewill continue to be a Priest and expect to continue producing the monthly briefings.

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