British agriculture must embrace change and attract investment if it is to benefit from the huge opportunities emerging in the sector, according to an Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) report.
Despite growing challenges of climate change and diminishing resources, farmers who are willing to adapt and innovate can prosper, according to the report, published yesterday.
Carried out by Bidwells on behalf of the OFC, the report says political stability, reliable weather and consistent yields mean the UK is well-placed to produce supplies of safe, nutritional food for a growing population.
But it says that farmers who are flexible, well-organised and open to alternative forms of investment will find more opportunities.
“We are seeing investors from outside agriculture bringing in new sources of capital and creating opportunities for the most professional, well-equipped and entrepreneurial farmers as operators,” said report author Ian Ashbridge of consultant Bidwells.
“This research has identified a need for new and innovative structures which align interest more effectively, such as share farming, which has been popular in New Zealand but has barely been tried in the UK.
“Its adoption requires a major change in attitude from farming towards risk and reward and sharing the whole value the business generates – even equity.”
The report, which interviewed more than 100 farmers and agricultural experts to find their views of the industry over the coming decade, says that future farm profitability will rely on more collaboration between farmers in order to invest in infrastructure such as roads and water systems.
Farming must also be allowed to access new technologies that will improve yields of key crops, it adds.
“We are going to need to generate levels of science and technological improvement which will inevitably need greater investment, which in many cases could be more than a single farm can afford,” Ashbridge said.
He concluded: “This report suggests a further increase in scale of farms and farm output is likely to make collaboration the only option for a new generation on infrastructure investment.”
Scottish farmers escape worst of the weather
Scottish farmers appear to have escaped the worst of the recent bad weather, with leading rural insurer NFU Mutual yesterday revealing that only 15 per cent of the claims they had received since the storms started came from north of the Border.
Rural affairs spokesman for the mutual, Tim Price said that, on a UK basis, the company was dealing with more 4,000 claims at a potential cost of more than £40 million resulting from December’s storms and floods.
“It’s too early to put an accurate figure on the cost of settling claims because we don’t yet know the full cost of repairs and we suspect some claims for minor damage many not yet have been reported,” he said.
He added that, while it was very unusual to have a month with such prolonged stormy weather as December, the overall claims bill would not be as high as that for the heavy snow and low temperatures which struck Scotland and northern England in 2010.
“Around a third of reported claims are from the south-east and south-west of England. Next highest is north-east England with around 17 per cent of the claims bill, and Scotland with around 15 per cent,” he said.
“The majority of claims we are dealing with are for storm damage – typically to the roofs of homes and farm buildings.The first priority for our local staff, regional claims teams and supplier partners is to help our members.
“That means arranging alternative accommodation, making emergency payments to people who have had to leave their homes in a hurry, drying-out flooded properties and helping businesses get up and running quickly.