Opinion: Farmers could be ‘sleepwalking into a mincing machine’

The problem with modern media is that it is easy to only surround yourself with news stories which confirm your view of the world.

It doesn’t matter how weird or unreasonable your opinion is, you can usually find an internet survey, a Twitter post or a Daily Mail editorial piece which will endorse it.

The best business people and most interesting human beings are usually those who are prepared to listen to other points of view and challenge themselves to change.

See also: 25 pieces of advice for 25-year-olds

I am trying hard to do this in the current political landscape to form an objective view about where the world is heading.

My conclusions worry me and I have made some major changes to my business as a result.

Matthew Naylor is the managing director of Naylor Flowers

If other farms in the UK aren’t restructuring just as radically, I can’t see how they will still be here in 10 years’ time.

Unfortunately there is little evidence that this is happening.

The devaluation of sterling has given a boost to the value of commodities and farm support payments and so instead farmers are skipping around humming Happy Days are Here Again.

If you ask any senior figure in politics, banking or trade, most of them will tell you that British farmers are about to face some epic challenges.

We will almost certainly leave the single market without a trade deal; our biggest market for farm produce is about to disappear and our domestic market is going to open up for other countries to compete with us.

Financial cushion

Within the EU, the UK was the member who argued most strongly in favour of CAP reform and more liberal trade while other member states were much keener to invest money to protect their farmers and rural economies.

We must prepare for a situation where, without the UK’s influence, the remaining EU member states decide to financially cushion their farmers more than ever.

It’s all very jolly seeing Andrea Leadsom, power-dressed in shoulder pads and big hair like an extra from Dynasty standing on podium talking about the wonderful opportunities to sell £100 bottles of whisky to Chinese officials and Russian oligarchs or to export posh tins of shortbread with a picture of a double-decker bus on them to Korea. 

Benchmark costs

But what about the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wheat that we sell to the EU? What about the restrictions that save us from Australian lamb imports? She provides no comfort in what she says on these important matters.

I don’t want to see fellow farmers sleepwalk into a mincing machine which will spit them out in a thousand tiny pieces.

Farmers need to get into committed supply chains very quickly. They need to benchmark their costs against international producers.

Fitting a Union Jack wheel cover on the back of your 4×4 and making a little speech to the nodding congregation at an NFU branch meeting will not be enough. 

I’m not convinced that any nation can build a genuinely strong economy from a weak currency. The fall of the pound against the dollar and the euro hasn’t just sent farm input costs rocketing.

It has also put British farmland and food processing businesses at a 15% discount to foreign companies which wish to buy them.

If British farmers are not globally competitive then more efficient foreign businesses will set up production here to supply our customers.

The future of British farming is very bright, but the future of its individual farmers is far from guaranteed.

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