With crops maturing rapidly and the harvest rushing towards growers, it might have been natural for attendees to the Arable Scotland event in early July to focus on local and national issues – but the debates of the he event quickly addressed major global challenges around markets, climate and sustainability factors.
Arable Scotland hosted four Crop Conversations where the multiple challenges and opportunities facing the crop industry generated in-depth discussion with expert panelists.
Market and supply chain issues were at the forefront. Julian Bell from SAC Consulting and David Eudall from AHDB participated in a market conversation and they both agreed that it is really obvious that the implications for global markets of the war in Ukraine will not be resolved in the next few years. years.
Even if the fighting stops tomorrow, the infrastructures have been destroyed and the fields mined. The implications for global food security were discussed in depth.
The reduction in supply and inventory has caused prices to rise, but with the almost inevitable consequence that high prices have weakened demand and prices have fallen from the peak of a few weeks ago.
One of the most immediate challenges for participants was cash flow, as fertilizer needs to be purchased now, but the next harvest is over 12 months away. Ammonium nitrate prices have come down a bit but triple super phosphate is still at £1,000/tonne.
Even at the current price, Julian concluded that there were still profitable margins and it still made sense to invest in fertilizers, with only a modest ability to reduce these inputs. Selling forward to fill the gap can be key, he concluded.
Participants were also keen to explore the multiple challenges of achieving net zero targets and capturing more carbon in arable systems. Carbon calculation will become an increasingly important part of life and can provide useful insights into where the biggest savings in terms of carbon footprint can be made.
There were discussions about the tools available, but the important takeaway was not to get bogged down trying to develop a single tool to cover all scenarios, which could be counterproductive in terms of leaving vendors tools develop and adapt tools quickly and efficiently.
For individual farmers, it is important to choose one tool and stick with it. This idea of tailoring things to each farm also came out of a conversation about carbon capture in cropping systems.
Minimum tillage and tree planting can help increase stored carbon, but must be tailored to each farm. Tillage can be especially difficult when there are grass weed problems and can also be more difficult when establishing spring barley crops. Increasing the use of bulk organic fertilizers, digestates, and composts could help improve soil health and increase soil carbon, but it must go hand in hand with what is acceptable to the market.
Scottish Quality Crops’ new chief executive, Teresa Dougall, was on hand to discuss how the SQC scheme works to facilitate this.
The direction of future policy and payment programs is not yet fully defined, but the mood in the tent was that there was a lot to do in terms of immediate priorities and an ambition to expand further for consumption local.
In terms of future crop opportunities, expanding legume production and developing stronger markers for it was a key wish. Rapeseed had attractions in terms of breaking rotations, and Scotland has an opportunity as the pest risks are still much lower than those faced by growers south of the border.
And there was a strong desire to continue producing for key markets where local provenance is important, such as malting and distilling.