Opinion: It will be a tragedy if the crops are not harvested in the fields

I have spoken over and over again of farmers who do not care about the things they cannot control and focus their attention on controlling the controllable.

For the most part, I was talking about managing your inputs, noting that most farmers have little or no influence over the price they might receive for their produce.

In fact, for many farmers, producer prices have held up very well over the past twelve months. Right now, we still see farm gate prices for milk, wheat, rapeseed, beef and lamb remain well above 2020. Despite that, I don’t expect that the sector generates windfall profits for the current year because, in terms of inputs, we are currently witnessing what can only be described as a perfect storm.

Brian Harvey, Partner and Farm Accountant at PKF Francis Clark

Right now the cost of fertilizers and sprays, red diesel, seeds, feed, farm machinery, types, wire, plastic, wood all cost more, and in some considerably more cases than ever. This clearly cuts into the farmers’ hard-earned margin and it is on the assumption that the farmer can grab it in the first place.

The same argument holds true for work in industry. I have too many conversations with farmers from various sectors whose main problem today is the workforce or, to be more precise, the lack of workforce and the direct impact on their business.

It causes me great concern when I hear senior politicians say that the problem should be solved by mechanization or simply by paying the worker more. If only it was that easy.

To my knowledge, there is currently no equipment for cutting cauliflower, picking fruit or daffodils, or carving up carcasses. Moreover, I believe it is a simple mistake that by raising the wages new farm workers will be found.

My experience is that the pay rates for this job are often structured in such a way that large sums can be earned for a good day’s work. Unfortunately, this type of work does not seem to interest a local candidate, so despite high unemployment rates, agricultural jobs remain vacant and there is a real risk that crops will not be harvested in the field over the years. next few months, which is a tragedy.

I believe the answer remains in controlled immigration and an extension of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Scheme (SAWS) to allow more much needed foreign workers and expanded to cover horticultural workers. While this sounds like common sense, so do other sectors suffering from chronic shortages that are hurting our economy. Unfortunately, a common sense approach is not something the government seems interested in at the moment.

Daffodils growing near Penzance rotted during the lockdown in February this year
Daffodils growing near Penzance rotted during the lockdown in February this year

This is a surreal time when you have conversations with farmers who are considering not planting crops due to the price of fertilizer and others who are unsure if or how their crops will be harvested. All at the same time as direct support revenues are starting to decline. Hopefully the high commodity prices will be there for a while. There is no doubt that everything in the economy seems to be inflationary, but it will be interesting to know how much this impacts the price of our food.

Either way, it is beyond the control of farmers and for me there is no simple answer other than farmers looking to protect themselves and manage the storm. This will require looking at production costs carefully and managing them wisely, focusing on retaining staff (which seems easier than recruiting) and producing management accounts and information in a timely manner, researching to take control of what the next few months may have in store.

As always, at PKF Francis Clark, we’re here to help. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or your usual PKF Francis Clark contact.

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