THERE WILL not be many of us in this industry that will look back on 2017 with much fondness – indeed anger might be a better way of putting it.

It has been a woeful weather year that will have benefited only those with wind farms, but storm-damaged the already delicate pecuniary situation of many farms. Indeed, the ferocity of the weather and its resultant impact on agriculture has only served to re-affirm the fragility of the financial stability of countless units.

Viability and sustainability are too often used as watchwords for our industry. But, without viability there can be no sustainability and there has to be, yet again, concerns that another swathe of dairy farms will be taken out of production unless milk prices edge above 30ppl, rather than face another slump as they are already doing.

We have what was once termed the ‘double whammy’ effect on many farms. On the one hand we have falling prices and on the other rising costs – they are not good bedfellows.

Sustainability, on the other hand, means what it says on the tin – it has to be productive indefinitely. But, you cannot do that without protecting the economic factors which drive bottom line figures and this must be driven home on a political level, for while market forces drive prices, government policy can also do so. 

You only have to look at the renewable energy market, which is largely driven by subsidy, for proof of this. How many wind farms, hydro schemes or, indeed, domestic heating systems, would be there but for the carrot extended by the likes of Feed-in Tariffs?

The big fear, as we go into 2018, is that the brightest lights from the 2017 agricultural economy, ie pedigree sales of many kinds, are quite often driven by factors and money from outwith farming. While in many ways this is ‘devolved’ from commercial farming, it still requires a certain amount of input, especially at the very top of the pedigree apex, to sustain it.

This is a delicately balanced, unquantifiable and untrustworthy entity to rely on and so must never be taken as a given for year after year recurrence. So it is not easy to come up with a numeration on what 2018 will bring – we can only be thankful that the sums stacked up for pedigree sales 2017 and hope that there is a continuation of money from outwith farming coming into the agri economy.

That might seem a depressing note to end 2017 on, but as we look out on what promises to be a frosty weekend for many of us, there will need to be a thaw in more ways than one to produce some green shoots for that farming economy. Let’s hope we get those green shoots in 2018.