The agenda for the June 2023 Copa Cogeca meeting of the Cereals & Oilseeds Working Party was packed full of a variety of pertinent topics affecting farmers and growers across Europe, but almost every item was interspersed with interjections about how poor the crops were looking following the continued hot and dry weather that most of Europe has been experiencing.
The biggest impact was to be seen in Spain, who predict their harvest will be just one quarter of what it usually is. This sentiment was reflected across Latvia (down one third), Finland (down 30%) and Sweden (down 20%) among the majority of other European countries. It was very difficult to pick out on a map which, if any, countries were predicting a strong harvest, and nations such as Poland were particularly vocal in their concerns that the market is not accurately reflecting how poor the European harvest is likely to be this summer. Many long and in-depth conversations were held about the drought conditions, including whether the EU were going to adapt the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) measures to accommodate for the varying state of crops, and what financial support and risk management plans, including insurance, could be put in place to protect European farmers.
Due to the long-term nature of this drought, yield is also going to be impacted by the varieties chosen to be grown this year, with more drought-tolerant but lower yielding varieties selected to match the conditions they were planted into. It was noted that the drought is going to have a huge impact on grain quality as well as yield - something that the UK should be wary of harvest begins in parts of the country. Looking at the wider impacts on cereal and oilseed markets, tight world supply and demand will mean that political factors play a greater role in grain prices – especially the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine are still expected to export a lot of grain - remaining the fourth biggest exporter – whilst Russia will have plenty to export too.
Fertiliser continues to cause headaches for EU
The fertiliser market has also been a contentious issue for EU farmers in recent months, with a tariff suspension imposed when the market was at its highest as a measure to ease market tensions. Unfortunately the tariff suspension took place at a time when very little fertiliser was purchased, and therefore the European Commission concluded that the tariff suspension had no meaningful impact on the market and consequently the 6.5% import tariff has been brought back in. This is incredibly frustrating for farmers at a time when the gas price is still much higher than it was two years ago.
Continuing to meet RED II standards
Jamie Burrows, National Crops Board representative, took the opportunity to query a number of issues on REDII, the Renewable Energy Directive that in the UK sits under Red Tractor or Scottish Quality Crops. It was helpful to better understand how the requirements differ between nations, and receive support from the working party to ensure the UK can continue to produce crops that meet REDII requirements now we have left the EU was greatly appreciated.
EU moves forward with gene edited crops
A leaked draft document on precision breeding was also discussed, with two categories identified – one for up to 20 edits to a plant genome which would not require different food labelling, and another for more than 20 edits or any herbicide tolerance which would be classed and labelled as genetic modification (GM). It also stated that precision bred plants would be banned from organic farming, but until the document is formally released changes to the content may continue to be made. It was also noted that as precision breeding has not been allowed in recent years, breeders are only at the start of their investment journey and it will take a number of years before gene edited varieties hit the seed marketplace.
Continuing close collaboration with European colleagues
The importance of presenting evidence to the EU Commission that promotes the environmental benefits of farming was highlighted on a few of the agenda items, most notably on the importance of oilseed rape as a crop for bees, and that a balanced diet is vital for strong nutrition and health. There was also a short discussion on the potential for the EU to introduce a ban on the export of all plant protection products not authorised for use in the EU, even if they are authorised in the countries they are exported to. This could have an impact on plant protection products available to farmers in the UK, so is an important area for us to work on, and support Copa Cogeca.
The whole meeting encapsulated the importance of continuing to have a seat around the table with our EU counterparts, and collaborating with them on important issues that we are all challenged by as an industry together.