Rain, rain go away and don't come back for a very long time.
After the wettest June on record, there has been no let-up in the atrocious weather and the forecast offers little prospect of a change. For most Scots it is an unpleasant inconvenience but spare a thought for the country's farming community for whom it could spell disaster on a number of different fronts. A string of agricultural shows, cancelled at the last minute after a year in the planning, is the least of their worries, though it must be heartbreaking for the organisers.
Farmers are already comparing this so-called summer with 1985 when it rained solidly from July to October and millions of pounds-worth of crops rotted in the fields. As The Herald reports today, the humid conditions have been ideal for the proliferation of potato blight. Growers, unable to spray their crops with fungicide after six weeks of almost unremitting rain, fear the worst outbreak for three decades. Normally resilient oil seed rape has been flattened by continual heavy downpours. There are fears for the winter barley crop too and for silage. All are likely to have a knock-on effect on food prices.
Meanwhile, dairy farmers are suffering a double whammy. Waterlogged fields have been "poached" to mush by cattle and many herds are already back indoors, consuming expensive feed. To add insult to injury, the sector is in crisis after a series of price cuts from processors. The latter blame the steep fall in cream prices, and the need to rebuild margins after a tough trading period but slashing farmgate returns will merely drive more producers out of the market. Producers and processors held a crisis meeting in Lanark yesterday at which the farmers vented their frustration.
Many have already left the industry, prompting some of those remaining to borrow to expand their herds. A succession of price cuts has left some of them facing catastrophic losses and soaring debt. If farmers, processors and retailers cannot work together, there will be no sustainable dairy industry left in Scotland.
Successive governments since the end of the Second World War have focused exclusively on the need for cheap food and increasingly have been beholden to the big retailers. In Britain we take good quality fresh milk for granted but frankly, it is now too cheap; cheaper than water. Voluntary codes have not worked. While some supermarkets offer decent contracts to some farmers, the industry as a whole is unstable and dysfunctional. If the Scottish dairy industry is to have a future, Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead should make good on his pledge to consider compulsory contracts, if the need arose. Milk contracts are stacked unfairly against farmers, who have no defence against continuous price cuts, other than to resign en masse. The need for action on contracts is now, before more farmers throw in the towel.
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