Whether you are a climate change doubter or not, few farmers can choose to ignore the urgent need to future proof their business for whatever uncertainties lie ahead.
Farming is unpredictable; just think back to the catastrophic floods a few months ago or the drought last year. No amount of planning could have avoided the destruction caused by all that water, but it’s clear that competitive and profitable farms tend to be the ones that cope better in extreme moments of strife. If you are making money, then there is more chance of being confident about investing in changes that prepare the farm before challenges come your way.
Scientists tell us that climate change in the long term will bring milder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers to the UK. They warn us to get ready for an increase in extreme events and to adapt our soil and water management as well as adopt sustainable environmental practices.
So this week, Farmers Weekly offers advice on what it takes to build a robust, climate-resilient business. In our report, one farmer, Jake Freestone, makes a stark but sensible warning: those who fail to start improving their soils until they are forced to, could end up 20 years behind the curve.
Many are not standing still. Farmers in the Cotswolds, for instance, are already taking action in their battle to tackle water scarcity in an area where stony soil dries out easily and where abstraction licenses are hard to come by. Others have adapted by switching to growing different crops that are a better fit for their soil and location.
“To mitigate against all of these factors, the industry needs farmers who are innovative, self-reliant and skilful at applying knowledge and technology effectively.”
Jane King, Farmers Weekly editor
Production risks around pests, disease, weather and water are uppermost in everyone’s mind but there are other vulnerabilities, too – market risks caused by price volatility, financial risks such as the availability of credit or varying interest rates and even health and safety risks.
To mitigate against all of these factors, the industry needs farmers who are innovative, self-reliant and skilful at applying knowledge and technology effectively. This means being prepared to continuously learn and adapt, and look further afield for the answers. In terms of climate change, there is probably a massive amount of useful intelligence we could be gathering from overseas.
Farmers need support in their quest to become more resilient from the supply and advisory trade. Practical help should be more readily available around assessing climate risk and implementing new farming systems. Where are all the so-called experts in this area who can bring the two skill sets together? It feels like there are not enough of them reaching out to the regions and sectors where the need is most urgent and evident. Could the banks, insurance companies, farm advisers and consultants be adding value here?
Advance weather warnings and action planning desperately needs to improve. Ingenious schemes are needed to encourage greater numbers of farmers to collaborate to manage risk efficiently. Blockages in succession planning and CAP changes will also have to be addressed if they are not to thwart our resilience capabilities.
Far from being intimidated, we should see climate change as another opportunity to scrutinise the business, inject new ideas and make it fit for the future. Just because we cannot predict what is going to happen, doesn’t mean we can’t spot the signals and have a cunning plan. And that has to be good for business.