The 2021 harvest in Ukraine has now finally been completed with late maize crops being gathered in as snow had already fallen and winter clouds gathered.

This has been a new record grain harvest for Ukraine, as well as the entire globe. This despite weather issues in a few regions of the world reducing yields.

As we look forward to a New Year we can safely say that the only predictability will be it's in unpredictability. Whatever arises, farmers all over the globe will be doing their best to feed a growing population.

It's certainly been a turbulent time in domestic politics in the last month with Johnson's 'Oven ready deal' finally 'De-Frosted'. Lords a leaping a fortnight early. Frosty the No Man has finally melted in the heat of an Irish Protocol winter.

Getting out while the going was bad, Frost by name. snowflake by nature as were Cameron, Davis, Barclay, Raab and Fox before him.

This after Johnson's earlier problems with French letters, and corrupt interior design and lobbying. A bizarre and toxic advent calendar of Tory troubles, each daily window opened revealing new unforced errors and corruptions.

There were also signs that the English rural vote had finally cottoned on to the damage Brexit and this government will do to both farming and ancillary industry in North Shrops. For a time, it looked like the R number of secret Santa Tory Christmas parties last year would outstrip that of Omicron. An absolute disgrace when others were locked in and locked down.

The Plan B vote provided the unique sight of the Tory party providing both the Government and the Opposition. Sadly, it does not take long for losses in the hospitality industry to work back down the supply chain and onto farm.

New export and import regulations, that Frost had slipperily avoided, will hit hard from the start of this month. It is scandalous that the Government has now admitted Brexit is the only Government project without any metrics, or outcome indicators to measure success or failure.


The Central Plains Group do not do things by half ... herere the new DeQulff potato harvesters in action this back-end

The Central Plains Group do not do things by half ... here're the new DeWulff potato harvesters in action this back-end


We already know who our fifth Brexit secretary is, a poisoned chalice indeed, for that 'friend' of farming, gaffe-prone Liz Truss. Perhaps an appointment by Johnson more to scupper a challenger 'on manoeuvres' than provide a Brexit and Northern Ireland solution?

If so, the logic is that Johnson believes both Truss and Brexit are doomed to failure. She's been more of a star in ridiculous photo ops recently than on top of her retained briefs at the Foreign Office or Agriculture and Environment in the past.

An interesting conflict of interest, or at best complication, between the twin roles of Brexit and Foreign Secretary as transition arrangements end at New Year and border checks and paperwork increase?

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, as elsewhere the winter clouds of fertiliser prices and Putin's sabre-rattling gather. To date this 'escalation of Russian forces' next to the Eastern Ukraine border has had no impact on our operations, with the harvest finished on time and safely in store and our starch plant completed and starting to produce potato starch for biodegradable packaging.

Although we believe that this is Putin political positioning, we are unable to predict how this situation will develop over the next few weeks and months.The feeling is that it would be a step too far for Russia to try and annex any more territory from Ukraine, although Russian psyops are in full spate.

There is no significant mobilisation of military reservists in Ukraine, as was the case in 2014 when the Crimea and Donbas were annexed. The Ukraine currency has remained relatively stable, only depreciating 4% against the $US since the end of October (exactly the same as the £ depreciated over the same period) and Ukraine interest rates remain unaffected.

Our operations in West Ukraine are more than 1000 km from both Crimea and Donbas in the East, which is the equivalent of London to Madrid. We have already weathered two revolutions and a seven-year conflict and US, UK and Ukrainian government support is significant.

There is no doubt that the mess that US and UK governments made in Kabul, emboldened Putin to put pressure on in an attempt to get unacceptable concessions in Poland and the Baltic States.

The drilling campaign in Brazil and Paraguay is drawing to a close, too, as farming never stops. Heavier and earlier rains from La Nina have fallen, delaying drilling in some regions, but progress has been good.

There has been a switch away from maize and into more soya in response to high fertiliser prices. This is a cause for great rejoicing as the pundits of doom and famine are confounded yet again, with the latest in a long run of global records.

Last year, Ukraine had a marked drop in production due to reduced plantings, caused by a difficult autumn drilling campaign. The bounce back was marked this year with an increase from 64m tonnes to over 80m tonnes, compared to 40m tonnes back in 2010. Formidable progress.


One of the big stories for the Central Plains Group this year was the commissioning of a factory to produce starch from potatoes for packaging and other uses

One of the big stories for the Central Plains Group this year was the commissioning of a factory to produce starch from potatoes for packaging and other uses


Like all parts of the globe this production is at risk from unprecedented fertiliser prices. Farmers are responding to these pressures in a number of ways. Changing crop mix, reducing N or not drilling crop in some cases. The use of foliar phosphate and fertiliser placement to improve efficiency will increase.

Nitrogen is the key driver in building plant proteins, the plant proteins that drive leaf production and hence intercept and utilise the sun's energy. Arguably, N fertiliser is man's greatest invention.

All our agronomic strategies and interventions are driven by the need to maximise this sunlight interception, whether early drilling, weed and disease control or fertiliser use. The miraculous process of photosynthesis not only gives us life on earth now, but past photosynthesis has given our fossil fuels.

Whether it is plant, or animal protein produced, both rely on photosynthesis and nitrogen. Sulphur is also a key constituent of plant protein and should not be forgotten.

Ever since we pioneered it's use in Scottish arable crops in the mid-1980s, despite the naysayers, sulphur has been key in increasing Scottish N efficiency. Reduced nitrogen means less photosynthesis and hence lower production, an imbalance in supply and demand resulting in food price inflation and food poverty and famine.

My prediction for 2022 is the first drop in global cereal production for almost a decade caused by reduced fertiliser use. Although some will jump on the Net Zero bandwagon (just wait and see), and claim it is evidence of a climate crisis.

Reducing applied rates by even 30-40kgN/ha will be economic under current constraints, but will cut global output. But remember, every day there are 100,000 net new mouths to feed. This is down from the figure of 250,000 of a few years ago, as global birth rates have dropped as global poverty has reduced.

Cereal prices will rise as a result of lower production and for the first time for some years, it will be the cause of famines, not for political, but for supply side and price inflation reasons.

These dynamics will be intensified by the pursuit of some misguided new 'green' EU and UK policies based on an exaggerated view of what premium consumers will pay for supposedly 'greener' products.

Meanwhile, the likes of Liz Truss and Anne-Marie Trevelayn will cut deals to allow access for cheaper inferior imports to undercut domestic production forced into higher standards. One man's 'Greenwashing' will be another man's famine and food poverty.

In my view, the pursuit of misguided net zero policies will further intensify these pressures. Higher energy prices will increase the desire for cheap food for the majority of the population, rather than 'Greenwashed' higher priced produce, or expensive lab grown 'meats.'

On visiting a biodynamic vineyard in Alsace, recently – all work you know! – I was unsurprised to learn that 10 copper sprays had been applied to these 'green' vines last summer. Multiple highly toxic heavy metal sprays destroying the soil microfauna – hardly 'bio' or green, despite the premiums charged.


A 2021 highlight for Keith was seeing how supermarkets present vegetables in Portugal

A 2021 highlight for Keith was seeing how supermarkets present vegetables in Portugal


With high priced greenwashed, or cheaper inferior food on offer, a form of food apartheid will result, I fear.

Nitrogen and CO2 are twin drivers of life on earth and both increase both crop and natural ecosystem production. There is currently a lot of noise and nonsense talked about N. Lies repeated three times become the truth, or at the very least received 'wisdom.'

On more than one occasion, I have heard it stated that N fertilisers are less than 50% efficient and so more than 50% is lost through pollution. This is palpable nonsense as it confuses uptake with offtake.

Much of this supposedly 'missing' N is absorbed by roots, returned in straw and other residues (especially in minimum tillage systems) and captured by soil microbes and biomass. This has always been the case.

Nitrous oxide is only emitted under waterlogged and warm conditions, when available nitrate is broken down by denitrifying bacteria as an energy source. Ammonium cannot be used by these bacteria, nor can it be leached, hence my fondness over the years for urea and ammonium N forms, in direct opposition to most fertiliser manufacturers running nitrate plants.

Good soil structure not only improves trafficability, but also reduces leaching and nitrous oxide emissions. Making the crop a better sink for N by improving rooting and sowing date are clear ways to increase N efficiency. Both are aided by good soil structure and avoiding compaction.

The true efficiency of applied N in well managed crops and soils is much greater than 50%. We need to consider the whole system, rather than just offtake.

The N captured in microbes, soil lattices and crop residues will breakdown and be available again for crop growth in due course. The same is true on our soils for P, but over a longer time scale. Cover or autumn sown crops capture any vulnerable N, thus increasing efficiency.

To claim that one can reduce N application rates to 50% and still maintain profitability by using some humate, or seaweed-based spray, disobeys both the laws of agronomy and thermodynamics, as well as common sense.

'No input, no output', as the late great Joe Strummer once said. One of the unintended consequences of any future reduction in livestock numbers will be a reduction in organic manures to add recycled nutrients.

The lack of any suitable legume crop options for most Scottish farmers also limits natural N-fixing options and also increases harvest risk. There is a prospect of gene editing improving both legume options and increased N efficiency in cereals, but this is a longer term prospect.

The corpse of COP26 is barely cold and both India and China have rolled back on their pledges. As has Mr Biden with a 'Drill, drill, drill' plea to aid energy supply at the start of a cold winter with Arctic ice increasing.

At the same time, Biden has had to deliver an $800m dollar aid package to an ailing domestic biofuel industry. His 'Build back better' net zero climate bill has hit the buffers in the Senate, currently, as the cost is questioned. Remember biofuels reduce food production and increase food poverty.

Meanwhile, net zero policies in Europe plough on regardless with intermittency and lack of investment in nuclear and gas helping to fuel massive price rises in energy markets. I certainly got a nasty shock at my latest gas bill, as will many.

Against this backdrop political pressure has led unwisely to the mothballing of the Cambo oil field development, off Shetland, losing thousands of jobs and downstream benefits.

This whilst inflation is now at a 10-year high of more than 5%. A recent survey showed 0.5m Scots are cutting back on food to pay energy bills, even before this cold winter. Even with net zero policies, our energy policy will still depend on fossil fuel for decades.

The EU is to reclassify both nuclear and gas as green deal power sources. But we are increasingly exposed to Putin's politicking on gas supply without increased domestic fossil fuel investment.


A crop of Riviera potatoes flowing into the hopper in Ukraine

A crop of Riviera potatoes flowing into the hopper in Ukraine


With the high volume of our manufacturing and consumer products now outsourced to China, pointing fingers at China is rather like complaining about the carbon footprint of the guy who gives you a lift to work.

The carbon offset system agreed at COP26 is rather like the medieval Catholic paid for indulgences and absolutions in my opinion. The rich are indulged and still allowed to 'sin', as long as they pay tribute to the Blessed Church of Climate Crisis.

The UN Climate Panel and many climate scientists are belatedly concerned that climate models are now running too hot. Funny this issue didn't come to public light before COP26?

In essence, the coefficient for warming with a doubling of CO2 is too high in the models (2°C too high), despite having been reduced several times over the years already. The models produce 'insanely scary and wrong' warming in the modelled future – NASA scientist, Gavin Schmidt's words, not mine.

They exaggerate past cooling in the real measured past. This is important as it is these models that have driven net zero policies, whether mothballing Cambo, or cows.

Whatever adjustments are finally made it is clear that anyone who parrots 'the science is settled' mantra is either ignorant or an imbecile, or both in my view.

Another example is the hype around the atolls of Tuvalu which became the poster 'boys' of COP26 in relation to sea level rises and the need for reparation payments from the West. A recent paper in Nature shows that rather than losing land, the Tuvalu atolls have grown by deposition by 2.9% over the last 40 years, despite sea rises and will be habitable 'for at least the next century'.

These distortions are bound to happen when the climate crisis gravy ship docks and the scent of reparation dollars becomes overpowering for poor island governments.

Another much trumpeted claim during COP26 was that the current famine in Madagascar was the first climate change famine, after it was disproved that the earlier claimed Syrian famine was.

A new independent Red Cross report has now shown that the Madagascar famine was not caused by climate change at all, but by poverty and lack of irrigation and water storage infrastructure. Poverty is the problem, not climate crisis.

The tornadoes in the US recently were tragically deadly and destructive and more evidence for a climate crisis, according to some. Yet over four times as many lost their lives in US tornadoes on April 6, 1936. Again, the science is not settled, no matter how many times John Kerry repeats that distorting inaccurate mantra.

I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous 2022 in this unpredictable but ever hungry world – although, "In Liz we Trusst" is not an encouraging New Year resolution for farming going forward. Or as a revolving Remainer, like Lord Frost, has Johnson just thrown her under the Brexit bus? You will remember the lies printed on that one too.

Whatever the snowflake resignation posturings of Frosty, Brexit remains very much undone and may yet well be this nation's undoing.