NFU uplands forum chairman reflects on an unusual summer

NFU uplands forum chairman Thomas Binns' looks back on 2020 so far, reflecting on the forum's work on the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) consultation, UK wool strategy and ensuring events operate in a safe manner. He writes:

British farmers were always aware that 2020 was going to throw up some challenges and unusual situations. With leaving the European Union and preparing to transition from BPS to ELMs, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic and the weather extremes we have seen this year, it really has been a year we will remember.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted people in many different ways and, in the livestock sector, prices have fluctuated at times. We saw carcass balance issues earlier in the year but these have now stabilised and look strong for this time of year. The wool market took a big crash in prices due to manufacturers being closed, causing a drop in demand. A larger percentage of last year’s wool has still not been sold, which has meant advances for this year have been much lower than usual and has led to some producers choosing to dispose of the wool rather than to sell it. This is a huge frustration within the industry because we understand what a wonderful, sustainable and versatile product wool is and how it could replace plastics to help us become more environmentally friendly and on our way to net zero. A group of members from the NFU's uplands and environment forums, and the livestock board, have been meeting to help discuss the UK wool strategy and help promote better use of the product.

The ELMs consultation was briefly paused during the spring but has now been completed and interaction with farmers moved to online webinars rather than village hall meetings. The uplands forum have had multiple meetings feeding into the response to make sure the correct objectives and themes for upland and hill farmers were being raised. We have also joined an uplands and common land sector specific industry meeting with Defra to help voice the key concerns around current schemes and changes that need to be prioritised for future design. Everyone has been waiting with baited breath on the roadmap and further announcements expected in September. Unfortunately, the announcement will be delayed until after the outcome of the spending review. That would mean October at the earliest.

Finally, as we enter into autumn the sheep sales are starting and farmers around the country are breathing a sigh of relief. All attendees are now being asked to wear face masks when attending and maintain social distancing measures where possible and farmers are stepping up to the plate to ensure events are operating in a safe manner. It’s been a bumpy few months but it seems we are reaching the ‘new normal’ everyone is talking about, which will help instil confidence into the market and get the sector geared up for what the rest of year brings.

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