Asking the right questions

10 February 2014

This must be the time of year for surveys and consultations – I’ve had seven to deal with this week. Five were swiftly filed in the bin, but two are actually quite important. While the temptation is to ignore this all as a waste of time, in some instances it can be your chance to influence the way your business can benefit.

The first one is the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds research strategy for 2015 to 2018. What are the issues affecting your arable business? What areas of research would you like to see your levy contributions spent on? There is around £5.5m of levy money invested in research every year – a substantial amount so it’s worth taking a few minutes to fill in the survey and do what you can to ensure the research is going to improve your profitability. The link is AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds/haveyoursay

The other one is the CAP consultation. Although it’s been on-going for some time, the deadline for commenting on the proposals for the new CAP is fast approaching.

How many of you have used the ready reckoner on the Scot Govt website to see how the proposals, as they currently stand, will affect your business? For some it is going to be substantial. Andrew Moir and the NFUS team are doing a sterling job trying to get a fair outcome for Scotland’s arable growers, but they need constructive input from the growers – so have a look at the consultation documents and feedback to your local NFUS branch.

The Borders Monitor Farm group did an interesting exercise recently by working out the impact the reforms would have on their businesses. The average for the 11 farms which did the exercise was a reduction in SFP of 18%. However the variation between farms was enormous, so it is important you do your own calculations to allow you to plan accordingly.

Borders Monitor Farm

On Alistair’s farm he took the reduction, which was slightly higher than the average, back to a reduction in income per tonne of grain sold. This came to £10 for every tonne sold – so Alistair’s challenge is to either reduce his costs of production or improve his marketing strategy to achieve that £10 differential. When you look at the volatility in the market place, perhaps lifting the average selling price by a further £10/t from where you want to be is not too big a step, given a robust strategy as opposed to trusting to luck – the more common strategy these days. Perhaps a reduction in subsidies will help focus our minds on fine tuning our business management skills.

The Fife Monitor Farm held its first full meeting last week and it was great to see a large turnout, including a number of farmers who had missed the launch meeting. After a quiet start, the meeting took off with a lot of discussion around the pros and cons of having potatoes in the rotation, as well as the importance of break crops, and which ones are viable.

Fife monitor farm

I’m looking forward to tackling these issues in more detail at future meetings, and hopefully in a warmer environment.

Gavin Dick - Scotland

Gavin Dick - Scotland

AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Manager (Scotland). Previously a business specialist with SAC, working to broaden farmers’ business management skills.