Coronavirus: How is the combinable crops sector affected?

22 May 2020

Combinable crops

The situation relating to coronavirus is continuously changing which is expected to bring a new set of challenges to the arable sector. This page will be updated as and when information is available.

Updated 13 May

Please see information on contract guidance including malting barley for the latest updates to this page.

Movement of grain, logistics, is an important part of the combinable crops sector, from moving grain off farm, delivering key inputs such as fuel and fertiliser. Our whole supply chains need to function, keeping parts moving at millers, processors and retail are also key to prevent knock on impacts back to farm.

Currently logistics is functioning relatively normally, but haulage has been put under pressure since the COVID-19 outbreak. There has been a lack of back loads which is important for agri tippers, this has been caused by a knock-on impact from the closures in the quarry and construction sector. We have had reports of haulage tightness in some areas, but this is not the case for all regions. In some cases, members have seen swift deliveries and collections where lorries have benefited from quiet roads.

PPE is becoming an increasing challenge to procure. The pinch point has been dust mask availability for on farm work and further up our supply chains in processing. We are engaging with government and across the industry on these challenges to find solutions. We have further guidance below on input procurement.

Domestic homes

These pages are updated regularly, but please take into consideration the impact of COVID-19 means that the situation is changing rapidly and we are working hard to communicate as an accurate picture the best we can but there will inevitably be some level of time delay in information updates.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues the challenges to keep processing sites running are not getting easier and challenges with keeping staff safe, PPE, procurement and a wide range of challenges are faced every day.

Flour is a staple food and key ingredient throughout the world and the UK. In the UK we make about 12 million loaves of bread, two million pizzas, and 10 million cakes and biscuits every day and to continue this important production we need flour supply to continue to be reliable.  In the UK we mill approximately 14,000 tonnes of flour per day. 

What we do know at this stage is the milling wheat supply chain is still operating relatively normally and keeping mills and food processors supplied. Some millers and bakeries have had the ability to be agile to take on retail demand as parts of the service sector closes temporarily and have adapted ranges to maximise output. This ability to adapt is beneficial for the whole supply chain, including grain demand back to farm.

As the country continues in with COVID-19 restrictions future buying patterns and demand is extremely difficult to predict. Retail flour sales remain strong as the millers work to increase their normal output on these packing lines. Retail bread and standard flour (example, plain and self-raising) products will use varying different types of milling wheat including UK Group 1’s, 2’s and 4 hard varieties of differing specifications.

There have been some changes in demand dynamics for livestock, but these sectors are still requiring feed.  At this time of year, we may start to see some of the normal seasonal ruminant feed patterns as the weather improves; for livestock and poultry sector updates these can be found on the NFU coronavirus information page.

The oilseed rape crushers have been reported to be continuing to operate and take oilseed rape deliveries. In the UK approximately 80% of oilseed rape is crushed for human food consumption. There are many external factors in the market news since the COVID-19 crisis hit, such as currency volatility and changing global oil demand to name just a few.

UK ethanol plants: currently Vivergo is not in operation but was not before the COVID-19 crisis. Ensus is still in operation as at 23 April. 

Beer and malting barley demand has been more uncertain and there has been a decline since the announcement of pubs and restaurants closing or also known as ‘On Trade’. Retail sales for beer, in bottle and can format, has reportedly been supported but there is a limit to the production capacity for these products and closures in the 'On Trade' makes it difficult to find sale outlets for cask and kegged beer. 

We are engaging with Defra, our NFU regional teams and across the supply chain on the impacts of the On Trade closures on malting barley demand. Please see our grain contract guidance below.

For NFU food chain updates click here.

Grain contracts

For all grains if you have questions concerning your contracts we recommend that you speak with your buyer/merchant first and you can refer to some of our online resources we have updated:

Logistics and input deliveries  

The government driver flexibility announcement has been widely welcomed. It has now been confirmed that the relaxation of hours covers all sectors. It is key that all parts of the supply chain keep functioning as normally as possible because of knock on effects that can come back down to farm level. Click here for the current guidance from the government.

We asked government to extend driver relaxation hours past the 21 April.  This has been granted and there has been an extension to the 31 May.

Click here to find the latest government updates on driving and transport. 

It is important that logistics and deliveries continue to operate for our sector. 

Suppliers have been keeping inputs moving by taking extra measures, some including increased biosecurity and closing sites to non-essential staff. Relaxation of driver hours has supported operations as some plant operation times have been extended to complete deliveries and increase flexibility. 

We are aware of some delivery times being longer than they normally would due to increased demand and some regional tightness in haulage, however some routes have benefited from quieter roads. Parts of the construction and quarry sector has temporarily closed which has reduced back load availability.

Please work and plan with your distributers to help them plan what growers need and when; in some cases, you might agree planned deliveries that are not immediate, but by when you need them.

Think about planning ahead: consider your farm supplies of equipment and parts that you will need or expect to require for this summer and think about where you can plan ahead to reduce your risk to disruption.

Click here for NFU advice on PPE.

Impacts on Plant Protection Products (PPPs) and plant health 

Click here for updates as the situation changes and new issues or concerns are identified. The information comes from discussions with industry contacts to assess how processes within the crop protection and plant health area could be disrupted over coming weeks and months. 

Assurance schemes 

For updates on assurance schemes, including Red Tractor, please follow this link to NFU advice.

Impact on BPS and environmental schemes 

For up to date information from the NFU team please click here.

Staff on farm

COVID-19 has caused some staffing issues on farming businesses. At the moment it is relatively low, but we can take some action to try to mitigate the risk. For our sector when this does happen, potentially losing the availability of just one or two members of staff can make a big impact at this key time of year for field work and going forward as we move into the summer.

This page includes some sector specific advice on actions that you can take to protect staff on your farm and to support members with practical employment and health and safety related concerns around COVID-19. The NFU’s team of in-house legal professionals have produced a Q&A article which they are keeping up to date here.

If you are struggling to find an answer to a specific question, please don’t hesitate to contact NFU CallFirst on 0370 845 8458. 

Key workers

The government has published its list of key workers, including roles in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines). DfE has issued specific advice for childcare for farmers, classed as critical workers, and highlights the need for them to continue work - children of these workers can continue to attend school, college or childcare. Click here for full guidance on this at the website.

To find information on the government's coronavirus national testing programme, which has been expanded to include further categories of workers whose jobs are essential to the UK’s coronavirus response, including those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery please follow this link.

NFU essential journey certificate

To help reduce confusion, the NFU has produced an Essential Journey to Work certificate for members and their employees to carry with them when travelling to/from work or between different sites. Click here to find out more and download a copy for your business.

Coronavirus: Advice on making and receiving payments

Information on different payment methods and the support available from banks for farm businesses can be found here.

'Control the controllables'

Grain collections

  • If you as a farming unit are unable to load grain due to being in self isolation, call your grain merchant or buyer to inform them with as much notice as possible. Please ensure you communicate clearly when your isolation period will end so they can rearrange collection.
  • It is important that the supply chain works together. In the event that a large number of drivers become ill availability of lorries may be reduced, as such if your business is able to give flexibility for grain loading times this could help ease tightness but again needs to be communicated to your buyer.
  • When lorry drivers are delivering or collecting grain we urge you to maintain the 2m rule and to ask them to remain in the vicinity of their vehicles rather than walk freely around the farm or help with loading / discharging. If drivers ask for hand washing facilities please think in advance how you can provide this safely.
  • Make sure not to touch your face and wash your hands after sharing paperwork and don’t share pens.
  • Use signs to politely instruct drivers, postmen, reps and so on, that where possible to stay out of farm offices / confined spaces and avoid unnecessary contact with surfaces.

Other things to consider

  • Grain moisture meter calibrations: With trial plot walks and events being cancelled or postponed it has removed opportunities to go to a moisture meter clinic. Please speak to your grain merchant/s or usual contact on what options they have available this season.   
  • Share with your employees advice from Public Health England. You can use resources such as this ‘Employers and Business Guidance’.
  • Visitors, deliveries and collections on farm: Avoid direct contact with new entrants on farm where possible. Ensure hands are washed thoroughly before new entrants come onto the farm and use of PPE where necessary. Request prior notification from suppliers where possible and ensure health status awareness. Prior notification will give you the opportunity to communicate if you would prefer not to have a visitor.
  • Consider cross training employees if this is feasible for your business.
  • It is good practice to clean all surfaces that may be shared by entrants onto the farm are cleaned before and after use.
  • Consider biosecurity protocols such as cleaning types of equipment used by hand.
  • Where possible keep the same people on specific tractors, farm vehicles and equipment.
  • Communal rooms and toilets for farm staff. Ensure there are hand-washing facilities available.
  • Check your farm supplies of equipment that might come into short supply, such as dust masks.
    • Deliveries may take longer than normal as demand for some supplies and inputs are high.  Plan for potentially longer delivery times and when ordering communicate that you are a farming business and the key reasons to why your order is essential.
  • Keep your distance and if contact is needed remember 2 metres distance is recommended.
  • Communicate with family and friends electronically to keep spirits up.
  • Opening gateways; consider wearing gloves to open gates and take them off before getting back into your vehicle. Remember hand washing is key and do not touch your face.
  • Currently agronomists can continue crop walking, ensuring that a distance of at least 2 metres is maintained from others. Some agronomists are taking steps to ensure more than one person knows about your crop situation for continuity. If your agronomist needs to go into the farm office, provide handwashing facilities so that they can wash their hands with soap and water, especially when they arrive and when they leave.

Click here to use the NFU's COVID-19 business impact service.

By using this form, farmers and growers can provide information on any business-critical issues they have encountered, or expect to encounter, arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. The NFU will log this information and use it in an anonymised format to flag the key issues agriculture and horticulture are facing to government on a daily basis. However, no personal data will be shared with the government. The service is for all farmers and growers across the UK.

See also:

Coronavirus update: the implications on the crops sector beyond this season

Matt Culley Hants NFU tractor_33397

National crops board chairman Matt Culley provides an update on how the coronavirus is impacting the arable sector and how the NFU is working to support its members. Read his column here.

Coronavirus: Updates and advice

 This news hub on NFUonline will be updated regularly to keep you up to date with what you need to know and how to deal with the various issues raised by coronavirus. Visit the hub.

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