Time for thought running out as CAP arguments continue

One of the simpler farming resolutions to make is to stay in business. It gets more complicated when ways of doing that are considered.

A meeting of Merse Agricultural Discussion Society was treated to the thoughts of of how to do it by two contrasting farmers with very different systems – Andrew Elliot, Blackhaugh, Clovenfords, and Neal Thomson, Caverton Mill, Morebattle.

Mr Elliot, with most of his business on “high, hard, hill land” is concentrating on simplification and consolidation. That includes using the Chevease, a new breed that sheds its wool, cutting out shearing and handling costs for what is now a low value product. He aims to produce several thousand lambs a year with consistent carcase ratings sold through Scott Country Lamb.

“Ram lambs are left entire, I aim to sell at 19 kilos, no fancy grades, low labour costs,” he said. Lambing is outside at the end of April, recording is used to identify the traits he wants: “Figures do work in livestock breeding.”

He takes the same approach with cattle to get types that suit their environment – a specific Aberdeen Angus with higher fat cover, again with a consistent product the aim.

He believes all farmers must be prepared to take their own tough decisions about the future.

Politicians at all levels are concerned only with short-term political results, in spite of clear indications that Europe must soon be producing at least 70 per cent of its own food requirements.

“They say farmers don’t see the light until they feel the heat,” he said. “We’re all feeling the heat.”

Mr Thomson said of his family’s business that total output was now two and a half times what it was 15 years ago from a mix of vegetables, grain, suckler cows, finishing cattle and, most recently, “bed and breakfast” for pigs.

But vegetables, with cauliflower and broccoli growing now accounting for about a third of output, are high risk as well as being potentially very profitable. As in 2012 when endless rain made them a disaster, he said. Weather risk can’t be managed and market demand is volatile.

He said: “We’re having to run hard and take risks. That’s worrying.” Worrying for him, thought provoking for members of the discussion society who all face their own on-farm decisions of what to do for the best as arguments about changes to Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP) due to take effect from 2015 continue.

Deadline for decisions on change at country level must be agreed by August 1 this year. Time for thought is running out.

Interesting to note, however, for all the recent angst about subsidies on many beef farms likely to be slashed in 2015, bull sale prices at Stirling last week produced a new record for Beef Shorthorn bulls of £5457, an Aberdeen Angus average up almost £1000 at £6107 and a Limousin average of £5247, up almost £800.

An odd business this