Gleanings - AF Weekly news summary
20th December 2023

Here’s what caught our eyes and ears in the agri news from UK and further afield in the last week.


Sugar coated deal?

The NFU Sugar Board and British Sugar looked certain to go into arbitration. Two weeks of negotiations had failed to end the dispute over the terms of the futures-linked sugar beet contract for 2024/25. However, amid sighs of relief all round, the two sides have finally reached agreement.

Growers will be able to choose from the following options: 

  • £40 per tonne fixed price (as per the 2023/24 price)
  • Core price of £38 per tonne plus a market-linked bonus
  • Futures-linked option, for up to 35% of their contract
  • Yield protection at a £1 per tonne reduction on the core or fixed contract price.

The cash advance option, late delivery allowance, local premium, and frost insurance are the same as last year.

In an uncharacteristic bout of self-awareness, both parties agreed that the protracted and often fractious negotiations have been unedifying, and have failed to serve the best interests of farmers and the wider sugar industry. A shortened negotiation timeline has therefore been agreed which will deliver a final price and contract earlier in future years.  

It has been very encouraging to see growers stand together and demand better. In any negotiation parties will always feel that there was more left on the table, but as a show of unity and resolve the process has been a strong win for farmers.


RPA warns farmers to submit claims by end of year

Farmers Weekly reported on Friday that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has emailed farmers with SFI claims in progress, that they need to complete the claim by the end of the year, or it will be scrapped and they need to start again in the new year. The email was sent on 13th December and followed by a tweet on 15th.

The reason given is that there is a ‘system upgrade’ at the end of December so all claims in progress will be lost. One of the many problems is that some claimants have employed consultants to do manage their claim, and failings in the system (e.g. it is difficult to transfer parcels of land from Countryside Stewardship to SFI) have prevented completion. They will then need to pay the consultants to repeat the task despite the delay being down to failings at the RPA.

Another, reasonable, complaint is that this was only made known to farmers mid-way through December – this is very late in the day when an earlier announcement could have saved delay and cost.

Again the RPA and DEFRA shoot themselves in the foot by failing to communicate with their stakeholders adequately and in good time.


Russia reaping record harvest?

Reports and records coming out of Russia suggest that they have had a bumper harvest. But as The Guardian reports, things may not be all that they seem. Although it is true that conditions in Russia have been favourable for a good harvest, the reason behind the hyper-production may be more sinister. Apparently Russian occupiers have been taking the grain harvested in occupied Ukraine and passing it off as Russian. As much as 20% of the Ukraine’s national harvest is ‘missing’ potentially boosting the Russian take by 5m tonnes.

Almost as worrying is the suggestion that this grain is not being used to feed the Russian people, or their people of the occupied territories, but is being sold illegally by private companies, at least one of which has close ties to Putin.


Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

New Scientist reports that Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), are restoring seagrass meadows in the Thames estuary, in the hope of improving water quality and creating habitats for fish, seahorses and sharks.

The UK project, led by biologist Thea Cox, sees dwarf seagrass planted in research beds across three intertidal sites using two techniques. One involves the transplantation of fully grown plants to new areas, where the plant can spread via rhizomes, and another involves the harvesting and planting of seeds from nearby donor meadows.

The team is monitoring each research bed to better understand the effects that sediment type, temperature, light, current and wave energies have on the plants. The eventual aim will be to scale up the restoration. “What’s so important about seagrass is the way it creates a habitat,” says Cox. “Hopefully we’ll see higher numbers of fish, a greater diversity of fish, seahorses, sharks being able to use that habitat and come back in greater numbers to clearer, cleaner waters,” she adds.


And Tweet of the week…