Prospects good for high yields during this year’s harvest

It occurred to me at the weekend, and not for the first time, that because of the nature of farming I could start Landlines every week with good news/ bad news.

The immediate good news is that I don’t intend to make that a regular feature, the bad news is that I will use one more example. So, good news, most of the past fortnight or so has been good to wonderful weather which gave last week’s Highland show a boost and silage makers ideal conditions. It was also generally good for crops and livestock, although it seems we don’t need many successive dry days before some pessimist mentions “drought”.

The bad news is that ex-farm beef and lamb prices are down as are futures prices for grain and, as is often the case in farming, those good news/bad news items are closely linked.

Good weather and rapid grass growth have helped lambs reach target weights quickly, numbers sent to market have increased quickly, and we all know what that means – prices have fallen.

The drop in beef cattle prices to about 2011 levels has rather more complicated causes, including a rise in beef imports and difficulty in competing for export sales because of the strength of sterling, but the net effect has been the same.

Most grain, oilseed, potato and vegetable crops are still enjoying good growing conditions after a mild spring and warm early summer. Prospects for high grain yields this harvest are good, so, inevitably it seems, prices being quoted for this autumn are the lowest for several years. It’s a funny old game.

Anyone who has ever prepared a farm business cash flow and budget for a bank manager – one manager told me “I don’t necessarily believe your cash flow, but I admire your ingenuity” – would have been encouraged by recent evidence that the Bank of England has a shocking financial forecasting record. For example, for one period when the bank had forecast inflation would be less than 1%, it rose to 5%. Any farmer who has seen his cash flow go pear-shaped as grain prices slump and fertiliser and spray prices soar would enjoy seeing a graph of the bank’s forecast versus reality.

While enjoying the bank’s discomfiture, with one commentator suggesting it should replace the term “forecast” with “prophecy” – why not “Wild guess” or “Hopeful punt”? – I can’t say I’m surprised. The history of economics is littered with so-called, and usually highly paid, professionals getting their estimates wrong.

But pointing this out to bank managers and accountants when my budgets were criticised never helped much.

I’ve lost track of how many sheep breeds there are now in Britain. It could be 70, most of them for decorative and showring purposes only. If it was 70, it’s now 71 with the arrival of the Valais Blacknose, native to Switzerland. It will be a happy day when we have more breeds of useless sheep than breeds of useless dogs.