UK agriculture ‘must show ambition to be the best’

British agriculture needs to be more ambitious about “being the best” and move on from the idea that someone else is going to fix the industry’s problems, according to AHDB chairman Peter Kendall.

In a speech to the National Farm Management Conference, organised by the Institute of Agricultural Management, Sir Peter said it was fundamental that farmers accepted that the ups and downs of the production cycle were a reality and learned to find ways to manage it, he said.

“Volatility is here to stay, and we must recognise it and we must plan for it.”

See also: Management, not market, will make or break arable profits

The farming industry was facing an extremely difficult time, but there would be no quick-fix from government, so the solutions had to come from farmers.

The large protest by thousands of European farmers in Brussels in September had left him uncomfortable, he told delegates in London on Thursday (26 November).

“We saw farmers saying the Commission has got to put this [the global marketplace] right somehow. I think that is the bit that is the challenge – to move on from ‘somebody else has got to do something about this’ and we move back to being the best about what we do.

“If you are the best, you are the last one going into loss in a loss-making cycle and the first one going back into profit when it comes to an end.”

Defra figures showed UK agriculture was falling behind its counterparts in France and Germany in terms of productivity, Sir Peter warned.

Other EU countries were also eyeing up the UK market because they saw it as a massive opportunity to increase exports as the population is forecast to grow from 63 million to 70 million.

“I see repeatedly as I travel around, the Irish, the Danes and the Dutch eyeing up our market because it is growing so much faster than theirs and they are big exporters with a mindset that is completely different to ours. They get up in the morning thinking ‘what do our customers want?’.“

Sir Peter said UK farmers had to better understand and respond to consumer demand.

“I get so frustrated when I am told by farmers that our job at AHDB is to sell what they want to produce and make sure they get a profit for what they want to produce.”

Sir Peter said the AHDB was working to give farmers the tools to deal with volatility, grow British agriculture and “see off” its competitors.

It was also taking up the challenge to “be the best”, he stressed.

In January, it will launch a volatility forum, with the aim of deepening industry knowledge of volatility management on a long-term basis.

There was a myriad of different options available to farmers already, but some of them were hard to implement when commodity prices were so low, he said.

AHDB was therefore focused on keeping the discussion about the need for volatility management alive once markets did start to move upwards.

The goal was that farmers could then build risk management into their long-term thinking, he added.