Farmers have a cautious ‘wait and see’ SFP strategy

More than half of farmers admit that they have taken no professional advice at all on dealing with the single farm payment, according to a new survey by Nottingham University.

And surprisingly, only a tiny number said they would be ploughing some of the SFP into a shiny new tractor or investing in buildings, while almost a third admitted they would have to use the money to support the family.

The University’s Martin Seabrook was behind the detailed poll on the intentions of nearly 900 farmers across the country, which found that three-quarters of upland livestock farmers and half of arable farmers had not discussed future plans with their banker, accountant or consultant.

He described a widespread “wait-and-see” strategy, where the vast majority of farmers, and particularly those in the livestock sector, had not yet adapted their businesses in the light of the SFP.

“It may well be that the situation is so uncertain that people don’t see the point in speaking to a consultant, but they haven’t made as much of the free advice as they could have done.

“Sometimes doing nothing is the most sensible thing – for instance with the asset value of the farm, it may be the best way of maintaining it.

But I would rather farmers had proactively considered it.”

And when the farmers were quizzed on their intentions up to autumn 2007, only a third said they were committed to making changes on the farm to accommodate the SFP, although this figure was higher among livestock farms in the uplands than in the lowlands.

Overall, the view was remarkably static, Prof Seabrook said, with 4% planning expansion, 6% planning to cut the size of their farms and 2% expecting to give up agriculture altogether.

Consequently, less than one in 10 farmers said they wanted to fire workers or sell land.

Robin Turney of the Laurence Gould Partnership agreed that uncertainty was still at the root of the problem.

“A lot of people don’t know what they want to do and until entitlement forms arrive in black and white, they won’t make a decision.

“A lot of our arable clients will change with regard to what happens to the feed wheat price: If it increases towards the harvest, they’ll put more crops in the ground.”

Tractor dealers may be disheartened to discover that only 7% of those questioned were planning to buy machinery with their support money, with more on the arable side than on livestock. But only the same number were looking to invest in their farm buildings, and Prof Seabrook said this could have worrying effects on farms’ future efficiency.

Christopher Monk of Strutt and Parker advised farmers to target buildings investment carefully, but said many could not afford it.

“The investment is lacking in buildings, but there won’t be much of the single payment available to help, because we are in a period of low farming profits.”