Effect on UK livestock farmers from year’s extreme weather yet to materialize

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Media reports say UK livestock farmers have slaughtered their animals earlier than planned, due to this year’s drought hitting the supply of grass feed. However, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s Phil Bicknell told WikiTribune “the change in UK cattle slaughterings for July were just 2 percent up on where they were last year.”

AHDB’s Market Intelligence Director, Phil Bicknell also said that this has in part been because “the dry and warm weather has triggered a slight increase in terms of consumption of things like burgers and barbecue food.”

However, farmers may still end up slaughtering earlier this year than planned, or selling some livestock – particularly if they run out of sillage (compacted grass designed to be used in the winter) due to the summer drought reducing their supply of grass feed. 

Bicknell said when we get into the autumn we will see if farmers are short of feed and if they will sell more livestock than they would otherwise normally do, which could lead to price rises. But he said if there is “it won’t be in the magnitude of 20, 30 or 40 percent that some people seem to be talking about.” 

“I think the challenge with the weather for summer has been very much about the dairy picture. In some parts of the country they had no rain for eight or more weeks,” Bicknell said. Yet, while there’s probably been a “very severe impact at the localized or regional level,” when looking at the country “we’ve probably seen at most a small drop in terms of the production impact.” 

The think tank CEBR recently released a report which said 2018’s exceptionally warm summer means farmers are selling livestock earlier, which will reduce the price of red meat in the short run but meat, vegetable and dairy prices will rise by at least 5 percent in the coming months.

However, National Farmers Union (NFU) economist Anand Dossa told WikiTribune that “farmers are price takers not price makers” and retail food price hikes rarely make up for increased costs they experience. He said “people have never spent less on food: the average British family spend on food and drink has fallen from 30 percent in the 1950s to less than 10 percent today.”

Meanwhile, UK farmers outstanding debt increased by 57 percent between 2010 and 2017, according to Farmers Weekly. Dossa said that they expect farmer’s debts to rise and that the NFU Banking Forum has written to all banks to ask for their support from the effects of the drought.

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