Older farmers urged to assess their readiness for Brexit changes

PUBLISHED: 14:53 23 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:14 23 July 2020

Brown and Co is offering free 'resilience audits' as part of a Defra pilot scheme to help older farmers prepare for Brexit changes. Picture: Ian Burt

Brown and Co is offering free 'resilience audits' as part of a Defra pilot scheme to help older farmers prepare for Brexit changes. Picture: Ian Burt

East Anglian farmers over the age of 55 are being asked to join a government-backed pilot project to assess how prepared their businesses are for the major changes being brought about by Brexit.

Rural agency Brown and Co is working with Defra to offer free “resilience audits” aimed at helping older farmers gauge their readiness for impending changes including the phasing out of EU subsidies distributed through the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), which are to be replaced by a new system of environmental payments.

While this transition will bring challenges, farmers are being told that opportunities could emerge to generate new income streams, to make fundamental changes to their businesses, or even to decide to exit the sector altogether.

The resilience audit will kick off a six-month programme aiming to identify particular challenges for the over-55s, and gather information which all participants can use to understand the implications of future changes, and how to plan for them. It will also generate real-life case studies to enable farmers to benchmark their business.

Andrew Spinks, an agricultural business consultant in the Norwich office of Brown and Co, said: “Defra has identified a number of groups who could be challenged by these changes, and older farmers is one of them.

“The older age group could potentially find it trickier to adjust. They can be quite traditional in their approach to farming, and in the 1970s and 1980s when they started out they would have been really focused on production and ‘ploughing up to the hedgerow’ was the mentality.

“Now the BPS is going and the money will go back into environmental schemes, and we don’t know an awful lot about that scheme at the moment, but there is going to be help for moving on, or out of the industry. We’re also thinking about things like succession and farm sales.

“At the moment we are looking for 400 farmers aged 55 and over. The first step will be a short questionnaire, followed by a resilience audit to provoke some thought about their business and how much of their profit is BPS money.

“We will select some of those for a more intensive study of their business to produce case studies and information which will be fed back to all the original participants.

“Some of this information will be going back to Defra in an anonymised format, so this is an opportunity to feed back your thoughts to government on how your farm business is going to be affected.”

• The process is free of charge and any details given will be anonymous. Farmers wishing to take part should contact their nearest Brown and Co office.

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