Food security should be as great a focus for the Government as environmental schemes – and a proper agricultural policy is key to that, according to speakers at the Cereals Event on 8 June.
The Cereals AHDB Theatre, themed Code Green for Farming, saw experts and farmers discussing how to shape Government policy as loss of BPS gets ever closer. In the session on agricultural policy, Savills’ Emily Norton said it was up to individual farm businesses to make sense of policy.
“There is no magic potion. It is about how they manage risk and make their business sustainable. The Government’s vision about how to run food policy and environmental protection side by side is lacking – leaving a void which farmers are trying to fill for themselves. They can go hand in hand but Government has a role to play in setting the vision for where the trade-offs lie.”
Agricultural policy is about so much more than ELMs, said NFU vice president David Exwood. “We need to see the full picture and work with the Government to succeed. We are not there yet. The Government needs to trust farmers and work with them to deliver a workable policy. The Ukraine war has led to better conversations between NFU and Government, not just Defra.”
Farmer Richard Ward said he prefers to ‘farm his way’ through the transition, making substantial savings through direct drilling. “The direct drilling technique uses one-eighth the amount of fuel to establish my crops compared with conventional methods. Time and labour use equates to about one-fifth.”
In the Farmers Weekly New Era Theatre, de-risking came under the spotlight. Andrew White, head of agriculture at Barclays, said that while he expected good profits in the industry this year, it is difficult to predict where wheat prices and fertiliser costs will go next year. Looking at borrowing, he suggested it could be a good time to fix interest rates for 10 years ahead.
A simplified business risk register could help arable growers manage the higher level of risk they are facing next season because of inflationary pressures and market volatility, said Jonathan Armitage, head of farming at Strutt & Parker.
“Our modelling points to the potential for arable margins in 2023 to be up to three times what they were in 2021, but this will be in tandem with a doubling of the working capital requirements.
“A business risk register is a tool commonly used in the wider business community but not so often on farms. It can be a simple list or spreadsheet where you capture the severity of the risks facing your business, calculate the potential impact of a risk event happening and then think through how to go about mitigating those risks.”
As fuel and fertiliser prices remain at high levels, cost control is a key concern among visitors. Tom Bradshaw, NFU deputy president, said members felt as though they had no control over fertiliser markets.
“Over the past year, the fertiliser market has entered a new era. Costs and supply face unprecedented risks and we need a visible, transparent market to allow producers, distributors and farmers alike to manage these threats in a commercially viable way.
“As the Government finalises its national food strategy, it’s absolutely critical that ministers recognise the importance of fertilisers and other inputs to a farm business and make those markets fit-for-purpose.”