Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Challenging ideas for the farming industry

The Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) often presents challenging ideas for the farming industry to consider and this year is no exception.

The OFC’s report pulls no punches. The Chairman of the OFC, Richard Whitlock comments, “Britain has some world-class farmers, but as a whole, our farming industry is lagging behind other countries and must make bold strides to becoming more globally competitive,"

This will come as a surprise to many farmers but agricultural productivity in this country, although it has improved, has not improved at the same rate as many of our competitors. This includes many of our European neighbours such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands as well as other non EU countries such as New Zealand and the United States.

The report’s author identifies a number of key factors which are necessary to improve competitiveness which include:

Halting the decline in public research expenditure on agriculture which to the contrary needs to be increased.

The need to spend these research funds “on near-market” research which can be put in to commercial use quickly which in turn would attract more private funds for research.

The research will help top performers improve productivity and their techniques will filter down to other farmers more widely.

Focus should be centred on the top and middle sectors of farm operators on the basis that those that do not seek information will always be very difficult to influence.

- Opportunities for restructuring UK agriculture through facilitated young farmer access should be improved. Younger farmers are often more strategic and visionary operators than their elders. They are also more frequently prepared to use loan, venture or external shareholder capital to expand the business.

- Farmers as with all businesspeople should help themselves by seeking greater (non-agricultural) business acumen.

- Opportunities for restructuring UK agriculture through facilitated young farmer access should be improved. Younger farmers are often more strategic and visionary operators than their elders. They are also more frequently prepared to use loan, venture or external shareholder capital to expand the business.

- Farmers as with all businesspeople should help themselves by seeking greater (non-agricultural) business acumen.

The author also identifies the receipt of direct support subsidies from the EU as a factor which hinders competitiveness because it enables farmers to retire from dairy farming for example and keep a few cattle or sheep, with this “lifestyle” being underpinned by subsidy rather than profitable farming practices. It is considered this holds back the beef and sheep sectors in particular.

The report also highlights the need to embrace wider use of “joint venture” arrangements, so as to give younger farmers the opportunity to get in the industry. Indeed, I have only been discussing such issues this afternoon where a retiring dairy farmer has entered in to a contract milking arrangement with a young farmer/contractor and because the contractor has performed so well, the farmer has invested significant sums in improving the dairy buildings and equipment to the benefit of all.

This is just one example of where such an arrangement can work, but what is clear is that in order for UK agriculture to regain its competitive edge we need to increase our agricultural research and farmers must be prepared to take on board new and innovative ideas so as to attract young farmers and new entrants in to a sustainable and profitable sector in the long term.

James Stephen

James Stephen

Partner

James is a partner who heads up Carter Jonas’ South West rural operation, managing the teams in the four offices of Marlborough, Bath, Taunton and Truro.  He primarily works out of the Taun...

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