PROBLEMS created by bad weather, financial woes and the potential appearance of a livestock virus in spring mean farmers in the north Northumberland and the borders are facing a difficult year ahead, experts have warned.
Nigel Miller, the Scottish NFU president, who farms 1,200 acres in the Borders alongside his two sons, has warned that milk yields could drop again in 2013 and that the poor quality and shortage of winter food will put beef and sheep farmers under pressure.
He has also called for government commitment to developing crops that can cope with increasingly extreme climate.
Other experts are also painting a relatively pessimistic picture.
Rupert Clark of land agents and rural surveyors Smiths Gore, said: “There has been a shift in the market with a fall in sales and profitability for many farming businesses because dreadful weather during 2012 affected the harvest and caused difficulties for next year’s crops.”
CKD Galbraith partner Simon Brown warned: “The two main factors influencing the farmland market are obvious, striking and are the two incessant topics of conversations – weather and banks.”
Meanwhile, the government’s chief vet believes it is now inevitable that parts of Northumberland will be hit by the Schmallenberg virus in spring.
Antibodies to the disease - which causes late abortion or birth defects in newborn cattle, sheep and goats - have already been detected in one case in Northumberland. The north east NFU branch is braced to deal with an outbreak when lambing begins. Nigel Gibbens, chief veterinary officer at Defra, said that the disease was one of the “harsh realities” of farming. He added: “We do expect to see it in the North East but losses should be around two to five per cent.”
Looking ahead to 2013, Miller, who has been Scottish NFU president since 2011, said: “It certainly isn’t going to be an easy year for many of us, but, with some real summer weather, hopefully we can start to see the industry claw its way back from the saturated land and negative cash flows of 2012.
“The challenge of piloting stock through the winter with forage stocks low and, in some cases, of poor quality is only just starting to bite. Milk yields are projected to slide further and beef and sheep performance is under pressure until grass growth gives some relief.
“There are no easy answers. However, moves by at least one bank to open the door to extending overdraft facilities without an arrangement fee and making the government-backed small business loan scheme available does give a route into new finance.”
Miller has also raised hopes that tenant farmers bearing the brunt of a financial downturn will start to see some progress.
He praised the activity of the Scottish NFU on tenancy matters over and described the work of the Rent Review Working Group (RRWG) - who wrote up a package of recommendations designed to stabilise the negotiations of rents - as “imperative”.
A very wet 2012 means that flooding – and with it the fear of more easy transmission of diseases like the liver fluke – is on many farmers’ minds.
To that end, many have looked into natural flood management, which often means the planting of small patches of trees to prevent the immediate loss of rainwater.
If you are interested in establishing flood defences, contact Hugh Chalmers at the Tweed Forum on 01896 849723 or firstname.lastname@example.org