Sunny West Sussex is home to some of the UK's best homegrown produce, more noticeable at this time of year with all the activity of the harvest being collected. Farming is a key part of the Chichester District, with over 60% of land being farmed, helping to provide some of the 3,000 tonnes of bread we eat in the District every year, not to mention the 12million plus eggs we get through!
Modern day farming is highly advanced, long gone are the days where people reap crops by hand with a scythe with most of our crops being collected by machine. Recently, I had the opportunity to try my hand at bringing in the harvest and got behind the wheel of a Combine Harvester. With a price tag of £360,000 the farmer was taking quite a risk but I guess I looked like I was up to the challenge…
From this vantage point, we discussed the technological advances in farming, and the impact on farm economics but one variable that still cannot be controlled is the good old English weather. This year we have had the worst combination; a very wet winter followed by a prolonged hot, dry summer, and although we have all be basking in the sun, local crops have suffered. Harvest yields this year are not as good as previous years in many crops, and this highlights the business risks farmers face, year-in-year-out.
There are serious concerns for the farming industry moving forward as we negotiate our way out of the European Union. The Government is aiming to avoid many of these with continued regulatory alignment on agricultural products; we can be confident our food quality and welfare standards will remain high, whilst ensuring will be able to continue to import and export food products as easily as possible.
Of course, nothing is perfect and continued alignment also means the UK will be subject to future rule changes. One ongoing concern is the debate around the banning of a weed killer, glyphosate. Currently, there is a trend in many EU countries to ban the chemical, and it may not be reauthorized in 2022 by the EU when it will be reviewed again. There are two sides to this argument, even with the UK’s rigorous authorisation processes many dislike the use of these chemicals, whilst others like arable farmers value them. It may seem paradoxical, but many believe the use of the chemical is more environmentally friendly than the mechanical alternative. In part because CO2 levels would increase by around 12million tonnes; equating to roughly 2.5million more cars on the road. Also, using this chemical reduces and often totally avoids mechanical ploughing, which if readopted would lead to soil disturbance that would be expected to decrease soil organic matter by 4% in just six months according to the NFU. Furthermore, there are risks to wildlife like ground-nesting birds and earthworms.
There would be a significant financial impact too as crop yields would decrease by around 15% to 17% in some of our more prevalent crops such as oilseed rape, barley and wheat and when combined with 49% more man-hours that would be required per hectare, it’s expected to cost the industry €633m a year. The Government is aware of the importance of weedkillers to arable farmers and will be working with the industry as we approach the 2022 reassessment.
Even with these pressures, many farmers are doing well but they do need our support, so when your next out and about doing your shopping remember to look out for local produce.