'It seems to be a sad, but increasing trend for governments to massage and fiddle the figures, whether on Covid testing, PPE, track and trace or climate change. Data is being tortured until it submits'


This time of year is always exciting, with combines and harvesters beginning to reveal the fruits of our season's labours.

The big reveal so far has been mixed. In my last column, I was worried about drought. Be careful what you wish for!

The annual rainfall never varies as much as the seasonal, so we always get it sometime! We have had a very wet spell for the last month off and on. Heavy rain in the Carpathians, dry soil surfaces and recent badly thought out logging activity, led to rapid run off and the worst floods on the River Dnister for 50 years.

Several villages were inundated and evacuated, bridges and roads swept away. Some farmers near the river lost some crop due to flooding. We had only 4ha waterlogged for 24hrs and no losses.The power and ferocity of the river flash flooding had to be seen to be believed.

So, until very recently, harvest had been catchy to say the least. Rains came too late for the winter barley and while yields have been below average at around 6 tonnes per ha in the West of Ukraine, the quality has been even poorer with bushel weights below 60kg/hl the standard.

Yields and quality are even lower in the central, eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. This poor quality may well help Scottish exports of barley into overseas markets, such as the Middle and Far East.

The wet and warm weather also dramatically increased late disease risk, as it has done in Scottish crops. Blight control in our Lady Claire potatoes under contract to PepsiCo for crisps has been tricky. This due to the triple threat of disease pressure, low varietal resistance and slight delays in spraying in waterlogged fields.

Fortunately, Zorvec and our bespoke Curzate mixes, with adjuvants, are keeping blight at bay in much higher disease pressure conditions than Scotland. As reported, Covid-19 has increased crisp sales and demand for crisping potatoes. We are also looking at both starch and protein product production from our world-beating soils, a much better return than UK investment currently.

There is much talk of global and UK agricultural support and trade these 'no-deal Brexit' days. Recent OECD analysis showed that Government support constituted 18% and 12% of gross farm income for UK and US farms, respectively. For us in the Ukraine, the OECD shows 1%, but I'm damned if I can find it in our farm accounts.

This highlighted the superior competitivity and investment in the Ukraine. No-one can say the UK is a safer bet anymore. The UK Brexit 'dividend' continued with hundreds of £millions spent on customs infrastructure and 50,000 new customs staff that were said to be unnecessary until recently.

Meanwhile, with increasing tensions with China on Hong Kong and Huawei, the prospects of a good Chinese trade deal is receding as fast as a good one for the farming industry with the US on food standards, animal welfare and competitiveness. All these missteps impact our industry. Project Fear is now Project Here.

Whilst rain has come too late for winter rape and barley, it had been a late boost to wheat which had lost tillers in the drought. Whilst greening up the wheat, there has been a late surge of ear diseases in barley and wheat alike.

Thankfully, unlike the EU, we still have Bravo, but fusarium is rampant and widespread in poorly or late treated barley and wheats. I am sceptical that any expensive biostimulant can replace good fungicides in giving protection. Such products rarely get adequate testing and are more often driven by supplier margins than farmer profit.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is in operation again, with Covid-19 reducing demand and price of fuel. This dramatically reduced grain haulage costs to the port, or into the EU and drying costs for the catchier crops.

Interestingly, the EU has reclassified oil and gas to help meet climate change targets! It seems to be a sad, but increasing trend for Governments to massage and fiddle the figures, whether on Covid testing, PPE, track and trace or climate change. Data is being tortured until it submits.

As Dieter Helms once said 'Governments are poor at picking winners.' A view of Michael Moore's new film 'Planet of the humans' (free to view on YouTube) shows the folly of massive Government subsidy for renewables.

There has been almost unmeasurable displacement of fossil fuels by renewables, only displacement of one fossil fuel for another. Longevity and environmental impact of solar and wind arrays is also questioned.

There is much talk of hydrogen fuel but many misunderstand that this is only an energy storage technology and requires other forms of CO2 emitting energy to put the energy into hydrogen cells with resultant entropy (loss) in the process.

It had been said that 'hydrogen is a fuel of the future, and always will be.' I note also that Cummings has recently gained £100m of our taxpayer money to fund development of carbon dioxide capture. A technology which has been widely debunked due to its high energy requirement to capture.

In any new technology, the whole lifecycle pathway for energy must be considered. This technology fails massively on that count as energy costs mean it is super expensive.

More encouraging is recent UK research on ERW (enhanced rock weathering). Farmers would be paid to spread volcanic rock dust on their soils to absorb CO2 as carbonate through a free chemical reaction in this.

Just think how much worse things would be in the UK without such an unelected 'special' government adviser and 'superforecaster!' A man who once failed his Civil Service entry exam, but not his eyesight test.

Just when you think the UK Government cannot drop any lower, or gaslight more on Covid-19 mismanagement, Irish trade borders, oven ready deals or deceive about food standards and agricultrural support, we now have the prospect of Failing Grayling overseeing our national security. What could possibly go wrong?

It reminds me of a story I was once told about Stalin. He called for a live chicken and proceeded to use it to make an unforgettable point before some of his politburo.

Forcefully clutching the live chicken in one hand, with the other he began to systematically pluck out its feathers. As the chicken struggled in vain to escape, he continued with the painful denuding until the bird was completely stripped and bloody.

“Now you watch,” Stalin said, as he placed the chicken on the floor and walked away with some bread crumbs in his hand. Incredibly, the traumatised chicken hobbled toward him and clung to the legs of his trousers.

Stalin threw a handful of grain to the bird, and it began to follow him around the room, he turned to his dumbfounded colleagues and said quietly: “This is the way to rule the people. Did you see how that chicken followed me for food, even though I had caused it such torture? Stupid people are like that chicken. Even if you inflict pain on them, they will follow you if you throw them some worthless treats once in a while.”

Wishing you a bountiful and low fuel harvest.