Think safety at all times

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Rarely do all favourable harvest factors of good weather, high yields and high prices coincide. And, no surprise, harvest 2013 isn’t one of those years.

The weather has been fairly good in recent weeks, with occasional local thunderstorm exceptions, winter barley yields have been better than expected, but spot and futures prices have slumped because of high yield, good quality, grain crop prospects in the United States, Russia and Ukraine.

That world trade effect has negated the fact that the English winter wheat area of 1.5million hectares is the lowest in 30 years.

Much of the missing winter wheat area – missing because of impossible drilling conditions last autumn or ploughed out in despair this spring – has been replaced by spring barley in both England and Scotland.

The result will be, when the spring barley harvest gets fully under way, a glut of malting barley.

Although most of Scotland’s specialist spring barley growers now work on forward contracts, some long-term, a surplus on the open market always brings problems on final price.

As with the combination of favourable factors noted above, I don’t expect 2013 to be an exception to that marketplace rule.

Although more than one third of the English oilseed rape crop has been harvested with reports of poor to moderate yields, little has been cut yet in Northumberland or the Borders.

That also applies to spring barley in what was bound to be a late harvest year after one of the coldest, latest, springs on record.

It’s depressing that in spite of all efforts by the Health and Safety Executive, NFU Mutual, the farmers’ unions and, yes, newspaper columnists, to encourage farmers and their staff to think safety at all times, particularly during the harvest rush, at least one harvest fatality has already been reported.

No details are available, but the 39-year-old worker was killed in an accident in Aberdeenshire involving a combine.

All familiar with combines can make their own guess as to what happened, the crucial factor being that in any contest between flesh and blood and big machines with moving parts there is only going to be one winner.

That moment’s rashness, carelessness or impatience can be fatal or crippling and life-changing for your family as one more widow with a young child can now testify.

Sudden death puts the endless ramifications of the European Union’s common agricultural policy (CAP) into perspective as a life-changer.

But the recent “settlement” by bureaucrats on changes to the CAP from the beginning of 2015 will affect many farming bank accounts.

“Settlement” is in quotes because in spite of apparent agreement much of the small print still has to be argued and bargained for and if I see the phrase “the devil is in the detail” one more time I might start rolling around and biting the carpet.

On the other hand, the phrase is unfortunately correct, not least because politicians have not yet agreed a total EU budget, from whence will come CAP funds.

There’s also the question of whether Britain will hold a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU.