Whether inside or outside Europe the UK will struggle to compete on pure price terms with major international grain producers.
Established competitors such as the US and Australia, together with emerging forces like Russia and South America, have very different cost structures to the UK, where labour, machinery (notably depreciation) and crop protection costs are usually higher.
But while our maritime climate increases disease control costs, it also creates favourable yield potential, with lower yield volatility than in many other countries, although that may change if we lose more crop protection products to regulation.
Competing on global markets now and post-Brexit requires growers play to their strengths and take advantage of the range of high-yielding quality wheat varieties being developed by breeders. The UK’s big population means there is strong domestic demand on the doorstep, which we need to focus on supplying first by delivering what the market wants.
There’s opportunity to displace imports if we can focus on a consistent supply of the right quality. This isn’t easy given the vagaries of weather, so greater collaboration between farmers and supply chains is needed.
Looking beyond the domestic market, there will be export opportunities post-Brexit, although much depends on what trade deal is agreed. This too determines the pressure from imports.
Exchange rates are a major driver of competitiveness with global trade operating on a $ per tonne basis. Countries with the greatest price competitiveness commonly have a weaker currency against the dollar. Sterling’s historic strength has not helped our situation in the past, but further weakening could change this and create future opportunities.
Changes to direct support could have the biggest impact on the competitiveness of individual farms post-Brexit, so benchmarking performance will be crucial to determine where to go next. Join my talk at CropTec to discover more about how UK businesses compare to the rest of the world.
Jack Watts will speak in the opening seminar sponsored by Adama UK