Gallery: East Anglia’s farming year captured on camera
- Credit: Dominic Gwilliam-Bell
The picturesque dramas of the farming year have been captured through the lenses of EDP readers – and 2017 has been another challenging year for the industry, writes EDP agricultural editor CHRIS HILL.
The last 12 months have perfectly encapsulated the swings and roundabouts of a life on the land.
And the farming year of 2017 – illustrated here through the photographs of EDP readers – has proven once again how those who strive to produce food from East Anglian fields are constantly at the mercy of the changing weather, market forces and political uncertainty.
The year began with a damaging outbreak of bird flu, which meant tens of thousands of chickens and ducks were culled at farms in Redgrave near Diss, with prevention zones and free-range restrictions affecting countless more poultry businesses.
Arable farms were just as vulnerable to unpredictable forces. The growing season went from drought to deluge, with spring concerns about water shortages eventually easing to provide what many called a 'good average' harvest of wheat, barley and oilseed rape in the autumn.
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The shining light was Norfolk's malting barley – outperforming other areas and proving why this premium crop is so revered by major maltsters and brewers around the world.
While summer rains periodically hampered the cereals harvest, the same weather brought hopes of a bumper crop of sugar beet – just as the end of EU quotas in October brought new opportunities for this productive East Anglian sector, which is now free to sell and export without restriction for the first time in decades.
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But as ever, those opportunities are balanced against threats and challenges. One will be competition from imports into this newly de-regulated market, and another could be the loss of protective neonicotinoid seed treatments, with the controversial pesticide at risk of a complete EU ban in the New Year.
The regulation of chemicals has been a major talking point in agriculture this year, with the industry breathing a sigh of relief as the European Commission finally voted in November to re-authorise the use of glyphosate, the world's most widely used weedkiller, after a long-running debate over its safety.
And that's not the only time the vagaries of politics have dominated farming conversations, with June's general election ushering in Michael Gove as the sixth Defra secretary in seven years.
After meeting farmers at the Royal Norfolk Show later the same month, he spoke of his ideas for a 'Green Brexit', with European subsidy cash redirected to reward environmental work rather than simply being paid for land ownership.
Farmers will hope that next year brings some much-needed clarity on what the government's post-EU food and farming policy will look like.