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Forage Aid Attend NFU Drought Summit

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

We heard from the EA, the dry, hot weather is set to continue well into October but at the moment most reservoirs are in good condition with healthy groundwater supplies but they are starting to recede. The EA said they will work closely with farmers to allow flexible abstraction relicensing where there is a serious threat to crops and livestock but this was followed with a warning, that they will only do this if there are no adverse impacts on the environment or other water users.
Dairy and Beef sector Chairs both reported good first silage cuts had been achieved but second cuts were non existent. The grass has greened up following the recent rains however its too late for farmers to make enough silage to last them through the winter. Managing the grass for another silage cut has to be balanced with late grazing requirements with the latter suffering if silage is given priority. The pig sector will not feel the impact until well into the winter and next year but an increase in costs of 60% was quoted. Slurry storage was also highlighted as a potential problem due to animals being inside for longer.
Combinable crops Chair said yields of winter crops were about 10% down but spring crops a lot more due to late drilling. Oil seed rape area is likely to be reduced due to the dry soil inhibiting germination.
Andrew Ward was asked to give an insight into how Forage Aid has operated in the past three weather events and what type and how many calls we have received in the last few weeks. He explained the charity have a haulage database with relevant companies willing to support. Branston Potatoes (Lincoln) Ltd have confirmed they will continue to be the haulage planning and logistics operator which the charity are extremely grateful for. Their expertise and knowledge was so helpful in the Cumbria floods, not to mention the many loads they did on a completely voluntary basis with their own lorries. Andrew also updated the meeting on the straw availability situation and reported to have spoken to many baling contractors recently. They are baling more acres than usual and they are finding more straw in the field and so they think when harvest is over, there could be enough straw to go round. The only caveat is the amount going abroad needs watching because this could have an impact.
An update on the situation in the rest of the EU was given, we heard the whole of the EU is affected to varying degrees. Latvia and Lithuania have declared a state of emergency and the Irsih government have started a fodder transport scheme where they are now giving financial assistance to subsidise haulage. Forage Aid alerted the Secretary of State, Michael Gove to this and also that lorries were taking straw from our eastern counties and onto a ferry to Ireland. We asked if our Government would be prepared to launch a similar transport scheme.  
Michael Gove and his team stayed for the full one and a half hour meeting and I’m sure went away with a much better knowledge of the situation and the issues the industry is likely to face this winter. He said he would like to see Defra be much more flexible this year and understanding of the farmers problems. He asked for a detailed report of which areas were worse affected than others. Relaxing of Greening measures and cropping requirements was also mentioned and we asked for grazing restrictions to be lifted on areas not normally used, such as land in stewardship agreements. Cutting and baling of these areas was also requested to help with the forage shortfall. A ‘mow a margin’ type scheme was mentioned which could bring a lot of areas into forage production with the amount of grass margins around a lot of arable fields. One big concern is the amount of single farm payments and Countryside Stewardship payments still outstanding from last year and even the year before. Mr Gove and Natural England were told this is totally unacceptable and with holding payments was putting the affected businesses at serous risk. It was asked for this years payments to be early if possible or not to be late as the worst case.