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UK farming sector is facing its biggest period of change

The head of Lodders Agriculture team has warned that the agricultural sector is facing one of its biggest periods of change for…

The head of Lodders Agriculture team has warned that the agricultural sector is facing one of its biggest periods of change for nearly sixty years, which will affect the rural sector in all manner of ways.

Speaking at the firm’s annual Rural Conference in Chipping Campden, focussed on a theme of farming resilience, James Spreckley said: “This new decade brings with it an era of unprecedented change for the agricultural sector.

“The sector is facing a raft of changes, and all of them will come quickly and affect everyone from the farmers and producers, to every rural and farming business across the UK, many consequent of the UK’s departure from the EU but others driven by climate change concerns and changing consumer demand.

Reconsider and adapt

“The changes will mean that many businesses will have to reconsider their operating model, as they adapt to new environmental and support regimes and cope with reduced access to workers and even to changes to the tax rules that have supported succession planning for many years. Of course, it is not necessarily all bad news and access to data and technology will be a change that can provide many benefits but until these ‘bed in’, the industry and those working in it need help with managing these changes, how they respond.”

Held at Lapstone Barn in the Cotswolds, Lodders’ annual Rural Conference attracted more than 140 delegates from across the agricultural sector from farmers, rural businesses to sector professionals.

“We have brought together speakers from across the farming industry to provide some real-life experiences and insights into the issues facing farmers today, such as seizing the opportunity to diversify, of access to technology, of wellbeing, of balancing productive farming with the demands of ‘public goods’ and of protecting farming assets,” James explained.

The speakers included:

  • Mark Green, co-founder of the award-winning ‘Two Farmers’ hand-cooked crisps and a second-generation potato farmer, who explained how he has successfully diversified the farming enterprise with a focus on sustainability and using local products to transform his business and generate valuable new diverse income streams.
  • Holly Beckett, project director at ‘Focussed Farmers’, a 2015 Nuffield scholar and fourth-generation family member of the Beckett Farm enterprise, discussed the importance of mental health and resilience for all those working in the agricultural sector and how it can contribute to driving a successful business.
  • Agricultural Sustainability Manager at BASF, Mike Green, shared his thoughts on how better to manage the balance between profitable crop production and a healthy farming environment, raising some of the challenges the new Environmental Land Management Schemes may raise as the current subsidy regime is wound down.
  • Manager of the new Agri-tech Centre at Hartpury University and College, Ben Thompson explained the University’s ‘Tech to Plate’ concept and how the centre plans to share access to technology and innovation with farmers, to help them access new technologies available to assist them in improving profitability and sustainability.
  • Lodders’ partner and head of its Family Law team, Beverley Morris discussed protecting farming family wealth with the use of pre-nuptial agreements as new generations and spouses come into the farming or rural business.

Changes

James Spreckley added: “Whilst the weather continues to be the immediate challenge to most UK farmers, with February being the wettest month for rainfall on record, leaving many farmers unable to drill all their crops or turn out livestock, it is important to recognise the other changes that are coming, not least through the new Agriculture and Environment Bills.

“Changes such as the phasing-out of farming subsidies that is on the horizon and the ongoing uncertainty over the replacement regime, continued pressure around the perceived emissions from farming, and concerns over the outcome of trade deals all mean that the agriculture sector is going to have to adapt. There will of course be opportunities as well as challenges but the important thing for the sector is to engage and respond.”

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James Spreckley