Farming column with Sam Walton

Do maize and wheat silos like these in USA affect UK markets?
Do maize and wheat silos like these in USA affect UK markets?

Being in an industry where we buy everything at retail and sell everything at wholesale, no wonder some people think we need our heads examined and they may have a point.

In my youth, world prices had little effect on prices here which were not great but stable. Now our product prices seem to depend on the amount of crops produced round the world.

Shipping cereals from these silos based in Australia must cost an awful lot.

Shipping cereals from these silos based in Australia must cost an awful lot.

I have yet to work out how the price of cereals say in either America, Russia or Australia can influence prices here as delivering from any foreign country must cost an awful lot.

Produce needs to be hauled from their large farms to storage silos, then transported to a ship, some of the larger of which apparently only travel one metre on a litre of diesel. When they arrive here the cargo has to be unloaded into another silo, then sent by lorry to farms or wherever so imagine the cost of that.

I think there are a number of people probably in Chicago who sit in an office, trading futures by controlling the market and making a fortune out if it.

I know I can’t go back to the days of my youth but I do remember so well that in those days, you would put a sample of either wheat or barley into a brown paper bag, go to the local livestock market where several local grain traders, usually from animal feed companies would be in attendance.

They would look at the sample, sniff it, bite it or rub it on their sleeve and say yes, that is OK, it will either mill or malt and it is £17 per tonne.

That is what you got with no deductions whereas to-day we have moisture tests, bushel weights, inspections for weed seeds or poor quality grains, levies and anything else the marketeers can come up with! We are on a hiding to nothing.

Some years ago we heard the word subsidies.

They were introduced to help provide cheap food for the nation.

At the same time the retailers also heard that word and immediately took advantage of it so in effect, they got the subsidy by reducing the price to farmers, It is certainly a strange world we live in. Some of you may have heard about last year’s subsidy payment fiasco where the Rural Payments Agency got themselves into the most awful predicament where subsides (which we have to jump through hoops to obtain) were delayed by six months or more for some farmers, of whom I was one.

There was no interest paid for being delayed but if we missed the entry date by one day we would be fined heavily and some of the stupid rules they come out with could make you scream.

One farming friend received a letter to say that one of his field entries was wrong by 0.0001 of a hectare. It would cost more in salary for the man who measured that, than the amount saved.

I Know the public think farmers are feather bedded and moan a lot but the subsidy we now get is only two thirds of what it was when it started and grows less every year which is why the industry is struggling.