HC Deb 11 July 1952 vol 503 cc119-22W
Mr. G. Brown

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he can make any statement on the Report of the Working Party on Grain Drying and Storage in Great Britain.

Sir T. Dugdale

Yes. The Government have considered this Report, which will be on sale on Monday next, in the light of the aims of agricultural policy set out in the White Paper following this year's Annual Review—namely, a further expansion in agricultural output involving an addition to the acreage under tillage crops of a further one million acres between 1952 and 1956. This must entail a greater total volume of grain crops and—with new combine-harvesters still coming into use at the rate of some 3,000 a year—a very substantial addition to the quantity of grain to be dealt with in the month or so immediately after harvest.

The Working Party on Grain Drying and Storage has prepared an informed assessment of the situation created by the rapid development of combine-harvesting and the adoption for national reasons of a high level of cereal growing. It reveals that the installation of drying and storage facilities is lagging behind our needs, even at the present level of cereal production.

Hitherto it has been possible to handle by various means all the grain offered for sale by growers during the harvest period. But the Government accepts the view of the Working Party that there is now no safety margin in the facilities for the handling, drying and storing of home-grown grain during the harvest season and that such large deliveries of threshed grain from combine-harvesters are possible, and in certain climatic conditions probable, that in future years existing facilities might well prove seriously inadequate. In that event deterioration and loss of grain while the temporary surplus was being absorbed, and financial loss to the owners of the grain, would be inevitable.

This state of affairs clearly calls for action by all those who handle homegrown grain, whether as growers, distributors or processors. Unless already equipped to cope with heavy harvest deliveries they should take whatever measures are open to them without delay, and in good time for the 1953 harvest. In order that private organisations contemplating the erection of additional drying equipment and storage may have a basis on which to prepare their plans, the existing national silos and grain stores operated by Re-Commissioned Mills Limited will be continued for the time being but will not be extended. These facilities will continue to be run on commercial lines and the charges fixed at a level sufficient to meet the full costs of the acquisition, operation and administration of the stores and plant.

Land owners and others responsible for providing permanent buildings or fixed equipment on farms may be assured that in the Government's view the need for a high acreage of grain crops—including some areas which before the war were not regarded as grain-growing areas—will continue for as far ahead as can at present be foreseen. This emphasises the importance of as many farms as possible being equipped with suitable storage and handling equipment, and no doubt land owners will do what they can to facilitate any reasonable proposals by their tenants where the latter can see their way to proceed on their own account. The Government, however, see no present prospect of giving any special assistance to tenant farmers.

The special difficulties of cereal growing and grain drying in high rainfall areas such as Wales are appreciated, but I would draw attention to the information appended to the Report on the types of farm drying plant which are now available for the small or medium sized holding, and to the scope for adapting existing farm buildings for efficient storage. Moreover, although with a variable climate such as ours no hard and fast rules can be laid down, there is no doubt that farmers can reduce the need for artificial drying by choosing the right time to cut, by using combine-harvesters more efficiently, and by turning damp grain frequently.

The Government have already taken or are proposing to take the following action on other matters on which specific recommendations are made by the Working Party.

  1. (a) Every sound proposal for increasing storage and drying capacity, whether from farmers, ultimate users of grain, merchants or farmers' co-operatives, will be given the fullest encouragement possible within the inevitable limitations of capital investment and raw material supplies, including issue of building licences.
  2. (b) The Banks have already been asked to give full weight to the importance of agricultural production especially where the increased tillage area is concerned.
  3. (c) After consultation with the Home Grown Cereals Advisory Panel it has already been announced that the seasonal range of prices for wheat of the 1952 harvest will be widened from 4s. to 5s. per cwt. and, as long as present marketing arrangements continue, it is intended to maintain the range at not less than the latter figure.
  4. (d) The Government have considered the Working Party's suggestion that the rate of depreciation allowed for Income Tax purposes on newly constructed farm buildings (the cost of construction of which can be allowed over 10 years) should be extended to additional facilities for grain drying and storage provided by 122 merchants and ultimate users of grain. This suggestion has been made previously on more than one occasion. Traders who use grain in processing or manufacturing industry at present enjoy allowances for storage buildings qualifying as industrial buildings in accordance with the provisions of Chapter I of Part X of the Income Tax Act, 1952, but non-industrial buildings provided by grain merchants for storage purposes do not rank for allowance. To give allowances for either class of building on the special basis applicable to agricultural buildings and works would be contrary to the scheme of the Act and would moreover involve discrimination in favour of certain sections of industry and the distributive trades as compared with others. The Government therefore consider that they would not be justified in adopting the Working Party's suggestion.
  5. (e) Steps will be taken to encourage the fullest utilisation of existing drying plant.
  6. (f) The National Agricultural Advisory Service and the Agricultural Land Service in, England and Wales and the Agricultural Colleges in Scotland will be glad to advise farmers and landowners on grain drying and storage requirements and, through demonstrations, to provide opportunities of studying the layout of plant already in use. The Working Party draws attention to the importance of moisture-testing, and the Advisory Services are ready to advise farmers on the most suitable equipment for this purpose according to their conditions.
  7. (g) The Government will arrange for continued investigation by a Technical Panel into drying and storage problems, under the chairmanship of the Director, National Institute of Agricultural Engineering.
  8. (h) A conference will be called of all the interests concerned to discuss the practical steps necessary to develop the bulk handling of home grown grain as a means of speeding the disposal of grain.