Clear picture of bad weather’s legacy

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Farm minister Richard Lochhead forgot to take his wellies yesterday on a farm visit to NFU Scotland members William and Anna Thomson, at Wheatrig, Longniddry, – preventing him from seeing the effects of the past six months of extreme weather on this 430 acre arable farm.

But in a kitchen-table talk with leaders of NFU Scotland, Lochhead promised a number of measures to mitigate the damage caused by the weather, including a promise to write to the clearing banks to update them on the timing of single farm payments and also to ask them to provide maximum flexibility for those farmers whose payments were not made at the start of December.

He also announced an extension of invoice dates for 2012 rural priorities capital works, which have been held up on account of bad weather, with a new submission date of 28 February, a two-month extension

The minister reiterated that there would also be flexibility from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency on rules regarding manure and slurry spreading in non-nitrate vulnerable zones and said he would work with farmers in these areas to reduce any penalties for failing to comply with slurry spreading rules

“Parts of Scotland have experienced extreme weather throughout 2012 and this has created challenging conditions for our farmers,” he said. “With a well-deserved reputation for resilience, Scotland’s farmers are continuing to make the most of the opportunities ahead.

“However, there is no escaping the fact that this has been a difficult year which is why we are doing all we can to support farmers.”

Host farmer Thomson described the past season as “the worst year, in terms of yield and quality, in my 20 years of farming experience”.

He said: “This means that budgeted income and cash flow projections have fallen well short of target and some serious costs have been incurred.”

Looking forward, he feared the legacy of this year’s weather would be reduced winter cropping, thus affecting yield and income in the coming year.

“The waterlogged soils on the farm aren’t allowing crops to achieve their potential,” he added. “Those that have been sown are suffering from attacks from pests such as slugs and, because of field conditions, it’s proving harder than ever to get on to the fields to treat them.

“Whereas last year’s income would have allowed me to invest in such things as field drainage, this year farm investments of all types are much harder to afford.”

Andrew Moir, the union’s cereal committee chairman, put a pitch to the minister for the next round of the Scottish rural development programme to help Scottish farming become more resilient to prolonged bad weather by introducing schemes, particularly to help with drainage. There was a need to have more resilience in the industry he added.

The meeting also heard local potato grower James Logan describe in detail the difficult conditions he and fellow growers had experienced in lifting their crop and reduced yield volume and quality.

Despite initial positive noises about supporting UK farmers, he said most retailers had not been sympathetic about producer problems and continued to sell potatoes on special offer. These deals were often paid for by the producer. The big supermarkets have also been importing stock from elsewhere, he added.