Farmers must be more ‘self-reliant’ to meet Brexit challenges

Farmers are being warned about the danger of “sleepwalking into Brexit” without a proper vision and plan for their businesses.

Speaking at an NFU South East meeting in Basingstoke, Hampshire, on Tuesday (17 April), Tom Hind, chief strategy officer at the AHDB, urged farmers to start planning now.

Mr Hind said Defra secretary Michael Gove had already indicated the direction of travel for UK agriculture and there were three “givens” that farmers should expect.

See also: UK farmers eclipsed by Dutch and US on productivity

First, farmers will continue to operate in a competitive marketplace. “Therefore, we need to focus very much on how we can continue to compete,” stressed Mr Hind.

Second, the UK has a great range in farm business performance and understanding how your business measures up, especially with Europe, will be “highly relevant”.

Third, farmers should be braced for significant structural change, especially over the next 10-15 years, with the likelihood of an end to direct payments in the medium to long term.

Become self-reliant

Mr Hind said government will have a role to help and maintain the industry, but he expects a much greater onus on the need for businesses to become more self-reliant to meet challenges.

More than ever, businesses would need support from organisations including the AHDB, NFU and others, he added.

Mr Hind also identified a number of key areas farmers should focus on now to ensure a smooth Brexit transition. They included:

  • A five-year business plan that demonstrates a return on investment
  • A solid succession and retirement plan in place
  • Know your costs and use benchmark tools to see how you compare
  • Know your technical performance, including strong and weak areas
  • Identify your marketplace and consider alternatives

Later this year, AHDB will be providing a toolkit for businesses to make conscious, strategic choices.

“The last thing we want to see from any farmer in this country is for them to sleepwalk into Brexit,” said Mr Hind.

William White, NFU South East regional director, said a transition period will be necessary to design, develop and prepare for a new policy, though views on the timescale were mixed.

He added: “All farmers and growers agree that farming delivers a high-quality landscape with environmental benefits. Farmers can continue to deliver this, provided the policy incentives are practical.”