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A tale of two climates and one price

A stark contrast still between Scotland and Eastern Europe and Russia with a harvest story of over abundant moisture in one and a drought in the other! In both arenas yields have been good, where the right inputs have been applied, as they have in Ireland too. This will sadly not help prices, although Chinese demand for grain and soya imports remains stronger than for metal commodities! The Chinese currently lease almost 10% of Ukrainian arable land. The weakness of the rouble and increases in the Eastern harvest output will have an adverse impact on prices.

It has been a Scottish “catch while catch can” harvest and opportunities have had to be seized with vigour, both to gather the harvest in and to establish next years foundation in good time. At least in the East the soil temperatures are still high to aid growth, nothing drops soil temperatures like a good dollop of cold rain! When Eastern soils, with a fifty day drought, had a little moisture a week ago, the unchitted seed roared through the ground, as have wheat and barley volunteers! Timing of control with these two tiered crops is tricky. The most important day in the life of a crop remains the day it is put into the ground!

Continued dry conditions have led to patchy emergence in rape in the East, with 4 to 6 leaf plants right next to seed waiting to chit! I have been impressed with the new 9m Horsch Focus drills with a good subsoiling action removing any disc compaction, allowing newly germinated roots to go deep. The opportunity to place autumn compound into moister soil rather than broadcast onto dust should also pay dividends this season.

At least fuel prices are a little lower than they were to aid the inevitable Scottish drying! Despite the Scottish wet weather, where disease control has been good, yields have followed, with some clients citing spectacular yields from wheat, rape and barley alike. The cool, wet long days of Scotland score again!  There is a concern over malting quality in relation to delayed harvest in the North from skinning. What price a GM skinning resistant malting barley! As usual high yields mean low grain nitrogen. There have been delays in establishment in both Scotland and Eastern Europe, the former with soggy fields and difficulties removing straw and the latter in lack of moisture for germination! The other commonality is the desperate prices offered, although potatoes are mercifully better this season. In Ukraine sugar prices have lifted due to the lower area and the hot dry conditions hitting root crops harder than the cereals, which have been bountiful where treated well. The harvest has been the cheapest and easiest for years!

In Ukraine and Eastern Europe two mild autumns in a row with little snow, leave low soil moisture reserves. Mild winters have also favoured pests of various kinds, particularly Cabbage White caterpillars and rape stem weevil which have hit crops hard. Dry conditions have knocked slugs back but that is not the case in Scotland, a major worry. This weekend is the last date to use our old friend methiocarb, leaving only metaldehyde and ferric phosphate for Scottish growers. Spare a thought for Ukrainian farmers who have neither in the armoury in an economy with 60% inflation! As the area of barley increases in Ukraine for Middle East markets the risk of aphid borne BYDV increases, particularly after mild winters allowing aphid survival. Best option is the use of an insecticidal seed dressing, which hopefully will have a deterrent effect on slugs. The roller is very important kit in the integrated slug control tool box! The "frozen" conflict in the East has temporarily eased, with over 8000 dead and 2m refugees, whilst Putin's attention diverts to bolstering the murderous Assad regime and establishing a firmer Russian military presence in Syria.

It was interesting to see Syngenta rebuff a $47 billion takeover bid from Monsanto late last month. The "Big Six" have acquired over 200 companies in the last two decades, few recall May & Baker, Maag, SDS Biotech, PBI and Elanco today. Over consolidation at either manufacturer or distributor level can lead to a stifling of innovation and over leveraging of market share, so few farmers or indeed distributors will shed tears at this outcome.

The end of August marked 18 years and eight months without a significant increase in global temperature. There are, at the time of writing, 66 theories for this now universally accepted warming hiatus, so the Science is far from settled as Obama and Gore wrongly claim. The accepted fact of zero warming, despite increasing CO2 levels, is not however, the crucial point, El Nino may lead to some moderate but predictable warming later this year. The crucial point is the yawning gap now between measured reality and the "virtual" model predictions upon which our global energy and food policies are unwisely based.

It has been disappointing to see “Google” farmers, who have never drilled a crop, coming out in defence of Richard Lochead’s delusional stance on GM. These self styled experts via Google appear to know all about the feasibility of no till farming and weed control in Scotland, despite never having seen a drill in operation, nor knowing their blackgrass from any other ass! The internet has spawned a “democracy of expertise” where lack of experience and knowledge in a field appears to be no obstacle to expounding an ill founded opinion! The sad thing is that these opinions seem to carry equal weight, with the powers that be, as expert opinion with many years of reality experience and not just via a search engine! If Mr Lochead believes that the Scottish food industry does not already use imported GM ingredients on a wide scale then he needs better independent scientific and industry advice. It appears Scottish agricultural policy is no less misguided than our energy policy.

One important side effect of the current intended GM ban is to halt field trials which would increase our knowledge and increase green options. We have also developed a research culture where decent scientists feel unable to voice opinion, lest it affect funding. A sad state of affairs indeed. It is abundantly clear and independently and scientifically proven that GM crops, used in an integrated system, can reduce fuel costs, minimize adverse pesticide impacts and increase fertilizer and water use efficiency, whilst providing safe food. Still, could be worse at least we don't have a Vegan as shadow agricultural minister! I'm reminded that apparently veganism does not actually increase your lifespan, it just seems longer! A breath of stale air into UK politics!

Dr Keith Dawson

The Scottish Farmer - September 2015