Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Resilience is vital for growers to thrive, say Monitor Farmers

January 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

The need to make farm businesses more resilient topped the agenda when 120 growers from across AHDB’s Monitor Farm network gathered for a day-long conference.

Delegates were encouraged to share ideas to help businesses flourish as they prepare for the challenge of Brexit and life outside the European Union – including a new agricultural policy which will see direcct payments phased out to farmers.

AHDB knowledge exchange director Susannah Bolton said: “We need to employ a strategy of resilience. That means being flexible, being open-minded and tuning into the environment, whether that’s physical, political, social or technical.”

Know your goals

Herefordshire farmers Russell Price and Martin Williams emphasised the importance of knowing and understanding why you farm. Growers should really understand their own core beliefs and have clear personal goals too, they said.

Mark Wood, previous Hereford Monitor Farm host said: “Accurate costs of production allow you to make decisions, manage risk, target variable and fixed costs and inputs. But costs are not the only answer. Benchmarking tends to lead to further investigation.”

Mr Wood said benchmarking his farm business had revealed that its Achilles’ heel was the amount of power and labour employed. Digging deeper into the costs of staffing on this estate farm had allowed him to properly allocate labour time.

“It is vital to know our costs,” Mr Wood told delegates at the De Vere East Midlands Conference Centre, Nottinghamshire on 28 November.

Christy and Hew Willet, who farm near Chelmsford, said business resilience should be governed by facts and figures and any decisions on public access or wildlife areas should be made based on sound financial knowledge.

Top performers

AHDB studies suggest the top 25% of farmers will remain profitable no matter what Brexit scenario emerged after the UK left the EU on 29 March. Mr Wood said this meant it was vital for farmers to ensure they are in the top performing quartile.

Newark Monitor Farm host John Miller explained how he scrutinises his business in detail before making major decisions. Changing drilling method, for example, had reduced establishment costs from £95.6/ha to £83.74/ha, a saving of about £6,000 a year on 500ha.

Kent Monitor Farmer Mark Bowsher-Gibbs said resilience for his Sittingbourne fruit business meant capital investment – primarily in storage facilities. He has also changed crop establishment from conventional tillage to rake and strip till – saving £41/ha.

But the future of farm support after Brexit was just one major change faced by farmers.

Again, on the theme of technical resilience, Warrington Monitor Farm host Robert Cross said growers needed to be flexible, fleet of foot and able to adapt their thinking. They should also understand how their business and personal goals interact.

“I might have slight over-capacity on my sprayer, but that enables me to spend more time with my family – and that’s important to me,” he said.

The importance of being able to adapt to constant change was highlighted by Robert Cross and Andrew Robinson, of Heathcote Farms, Toddington, Bedfordshire. Mr Cross said: “I’ve never had to be as adaptive as I have been in the last year.”

The final session of the conference focused on environmental resilience, Many practices now seen as optional are likely to become compulsory in the future, delegates were told – especially as the government introduces its new Environmental Land Management (ELMs) scheme.

Rather than a lump-sum direct payment once a year, farmers will be expected to undertake environmental measures in return for public support. The new scheme will be phased in as direct payments are phased out from 2021.

AHDB head of crop health and protection Jon Knight said: “Integrated Pest Management [IPM] will not just be an option: it will be the licence to operate. What’s more, things are changing fast and farming will become more knowledge intensive.”

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