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Agency boss says farmers face the ‘greatest challenge’ in firm’s 25-year history

PUBLISHED: 16:20 05 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:20 05 April 2018

The farming industry faces its biggest challenges for decades, says Charles Whitaker from Brown and Co. Picture: Nick Butcher

The farming industry faces its biggest challenges for decades, says Charles Whitaker from Brown and Co. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

A rural agency celebrating its 25th anniversary says farming faces the “greatest challenge” during the firm’s lifespan – and urged its clients to join the debate on the future of their industry.

Charles Whitaker, managing partner at Brown & Co. Picture: Denise BradleyCharles Whitaker, managing partner at Brown & Co. Picture: Denise Bradley

Brown and Co, which has offices across East Anglia, is looking back on a quarter of a century of history since it was founded at the end of March 1993.

But Charles Whitaker, one of the company’s founding equity partners, said the firm was focused on the future and the emerging policy changes which will affect farm businesses for the next 25 years.

And he said it was vital for farmers to grasp the opportunity to make their voices heard during Defra’s ongoing consultation on its new post-Brexit policy, which will govern how farms are regulated, monitored and funded after the UK leaves the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Among the potential changes is environment secretary Michael Gove’s stated aim of replacing the EU model of land-based subsidies with a system using public money to reward farmers for “public goods” such as environmental work.

Mr Whitaker said: “We think, and I very much believe, the Ag sector in the UK faces its greatest challenge for 40 years as we approach the countdown to Brexit and the opportunities and challenges to all our markets and support mechanisms that come with it.

“The industry has had to, and is constantly, changing to improve the environmental footprint of the sector (strip till, min till, no till, less till), cell grazing, plant and animal genetics, production efficiencies, producing more from less, lowering costs of production year on year and producing great value food and drink.

“If we are to disrupt that and have much more focus on the environment and less on efficiencies of production on some, if not all, soils and landscapes with less or no area-based support, while UK net farm incomes are circa £4bn of which CAP support accounts for £3bn – the transition needs to be carefully thought through and implemented slowly.

“The threats are real and we need to ensure that all of those in the sector engage and embrace the consultation with Defra now to seek to positively influence the new agriculture, food and environmental policy, which will influence all of our businesses and their employees moving forward. We should all have our say.”

Mr Whitaker is one of four of Brown and Co’s 12 founding equity partners who still remain as partners today – the others being Jim Major, Martin Herbert and Richard Levin.

He said the firm had seen many changes in its 25 years but remains “very much wedded to supporting agriculture”, which still represents 65pc of the business.

The Defra consultation documents can be found online here. The deadline for responses is May 8.

25 YEARS OF FARMING CHANGE

When Brown and Co was bought from Royal Life at the end of March 1993 it had 12 partners and a £1.4m turnover.

Since then, it has grown to a company of 250 employees, 30 partners and a £14m turnover, operating from 15 offices including Norwich, King’s Lynn and Holt in the UK, and overseas in Poland, Romania and St Lucia.

The firm has seen many changes in 25 years:

• Arable land prices have risen dramatically. Brown and Co sold land near Holt at £1,650 per acre in 1993, compared to a guide price of £11,396 per acre for a plot at Bessingham in 2018.

• The price of feed wheat has risen 56pc from £90 per tonne in 1993 to £140 per tonne in 2018

• An 18-year-old Grade 1 farm worker earned £4.79 per hour in 1993, compared to £6.72 in 2017.

• The price of a basic workhorse tractor has risen by 150%, with a JD 3350 costing around £26,000 in 1993, compared to a JD 6110R of around £65,000 in 2018.

• UK net farm income is around £4bn, as it was in 1993 – but the impact of inflation means the figure in “real terms” has fallen.

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