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the case of cattle and calves, £44 for pigs, £54 for poultry and £36 for sheep. There was some easing of the situation in the first six months of 2012 as regards pig and poultry feeds and then the upward march was resumed. Relief there came following the Northern Hemisphere harvest of 2013, with the most dramatic fall in year-on-year prices being during the first quarter of 2014 when poultry feed prices were £40 lower than a year earlier. Since that first quarter of 2014, the price of feeds has fallen steadily – until the last three months of 2016. It would seem reasonably to hypothesise that the increase in

year-on-year compound prices that DEFRA reported in the October- December 2016 run, the first year-on-year increases for three years, reflected the industry’s need to get finished product prices into better alignment with the rising raw material costs occasioned by sterling’s devaluation. The sharpest increase was for poultry feeds which, at £237, were £12 or 5.3 per cent more than in the corresponding quarter of 2015. The next largest increase was, interestingly, in feeds for sheep and lambs, at £213 a tenner or just under 5 per cent higher. Smaller increases were reported for cattle and calf feeds and in feed for pigs. As regards future price changes, a great deal will depend

on markets’ views as to how far sterling’s fall has reached a new equilibrium. It will also depend on how clever Finance Directors have been in fixing future finished feed prices. As we all know, while the industry produces price lists, these may well not reflect the real state of affairs, especially when a big customer, actual or potential, is concerned. The next set of data on average feed prices should emerge on or around 25 May; they will be watched with interest to see how the effects of the UK’s post Brexit vote have worked through to the cost of producing livestock feed.

COUNTRYWIDE FARMERS MAKEOVER Countrywide Farmers has been undergoing a significant make over recently, including changing accounting period from 31 May to 30 November. This has made comparison of the latest accounting period result with its predecessor more than usually complex. In the year ending 31 May 2014, Countrywide Farmers turned over £298.17 million with pre-tax profits of £1.06 million. In the eighteen-month period ending 30 November 2015, Countrywide Farmers turned over £320.29 million on which it made pre-tax profits of £4.96 million; however, almost £9 million was generated by profits made as the result of the disposal of businesses. A fairer comparison is between operating costs in the two periods. In the eighteen months ending 30 November 2015, Countrywide Farmers made operating losses of £3.94 million, compared with an operating profit of £1.27 million in the twelve months ending 31 May 2014. Countrywide’s Chief Executive, John Hardman, admitted that he was ‘disappointed’ with the financial results of the eighteen- month period ending 30 November 2015 which, he said, were ‘below expectations’, adding that the result had been driven by the company’s retail business influenced by market conditions, exceptional costs driven by the company’s continuing transformation and investment required for the future. In his report, the Chairman said that the company was now ‘well


positioned to deliver long term shareholder value’. In September 2015, Countrywide Farmers completed the acquisition of the trading business of Cornwall Farmers Ltd for just over £6 million. Cornwall Farmers has seemed to be without strategic direction in recent years and it is good to see this old name safely gathered in to what looks like a future with greater security. The deal brought with it twelve Cornwall Farmers stores and it is reported that the process of integrating the new acquisition is going well. Following a period of substantial consolidation and reorganisation,

of which more shortly, Countrywide Farmers’ feed and forage business was reporting feed volumes at 3.5 per cent below the previous year. Countrywide Farmers attribute this to the fact that farmgate prices for both milk and meat were under pressure during the period under review, particularly during the key winter trading period. This resulted in reduced farm profitability and Countrywide adds that their feed sales were ‘tracking’ the industry pattern of declining compound feed sales in favour of increased sales of blends and straights; this continued to challenge the contribution from the feed business. Albeit that it was another encouraging season for Countrywide’s alternative feed business, the fact that net margins from this trade are lower than for compound feed meant that the increased profit from the alternative feed business could not cover the shortfall from the sale of compound feeds. Countrywide has been pursuing a major strategic evolution which

has seen the company disposing of its bulk agricultural business and increasing its focus on its retail activities. On 1 May 2015, Countrywide completed the deal to dispose of its livestock feed and forage business to – guess who – ForFarmers, its crop marketing business to Openfield on 16 January 2015 and its arable products business to Hutchinsons on 30 January 2015. Countrywide Farmers results for the twelve months ending 30

November 2016 are due out at the end of May. It will be interesting to see how the events and developments of the last twelve months have panned out, particularly as the company has reinforced significant areas of its management. The trading environment remains difficult and it will be critical to see whether the choices made during the eighteen months ending 30 November 2015 have proved apt. The company has also reiterated its long-term ambition to move to the Alternative Investment Market – AIM – in the future; the next Annual Report should give a clearer indication as to whether that ambition is still on track.

NORTHERN IRELAND AND BREXIT An interesting not to say provocative article on the prospects for Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit highlighted observations made by Declan Billington, Chief Executive Office of John Thompson & Sons Ltd in the February/March edition of Feed International. Declan Billington’s remarks are significant, if only for the fact that

the company generated sales of £213.23 million in its financial year ending 31 July 2015, admittedly down from £234.03 million during the preceding year but substantial enough for all that in terms of the feed Industry as a whole, particularly that of Northern Ireland. The company generated pre-tax profits of £4.65 million in its 2015 financial year, down

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