Get the message - the future lies in your own hands!

Farmers were advised recently that ‘understanding consumers is key to farming’s future.’ Study what consumers are eating and look at changing, or developing, trends they were told and try to aim production to meet demand.

At the same conference dairy farmers were told it was up to them to deal with the milk industry’s problems and not rely on farmers’ union protests and hopes of government intervention on international low prices. Continuing to produce more of everything and hope is the road to nowhere was the final warning.

Much of the above might seem obvious. But the fact that a series of speakers thought it necessary to say much the same thing indicates that too many farmers still don’t get the message that European Union support payments won’t last for ever and that most of their future lies in their own hands. That will become more obvious in the next few months as support payments for the current year are delayed and when finally paid will be about two thirds of those paid last year.

Ex-farm prices for virtually every basic commodity are down this year, catastrophically so in some cases. That and the support payment cut mean financial trouble for many farmers, for some terminal. Even for more securely based businesses meaningful conversations with bank managers will be needed in the next few months. Most banks seem to be running a ‘We’re here to help’ campaign at present, but when the crunch comes assets and future prospects will weigh more with the banks than a hopeful smile and buying a lottery ticket.

Resistance to scientific developments by governments, as in the blinkered refusal by the Scottish government and the EU to accept genetic modification in crops, does not help. Farmers’ resistance to, for example, electronic identification (EID) of animals as a significant management aid does not help either. Last week at AgriScot at Ingliston there was a demonstration of how EID tags can monitor such vital pieces of information as weight gain, health problems and in selection of breeding stock. There was also a competition for innovations in farming.

I find that encouraging, but as I wasn’t among the 11,000 or so who attended, I would be interested to know if the cattle EID demonstration and the innovations attracted as much attention as the judging of the dairy cattle beauty contest in the showring. I think I can guess.

Quality Meat Scotland’s latest cattle and sheep enterprise profitability report confirms the gap between top and bottom producers. The top farms have good physical and technical performance, good control of costs and maximise returns from the market by – I suggest – producing what the consumer wants via butcher and supermarket.