Profitability and certainty are the priorities for new CLA president Tim Breitmeyer
An East Anglian farmer who is a ceremonial bodyguard for the Queen is now also a senior custodian of Her Majesty’s countryside after becoming the president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).
Profitability must be the main driver of the UK’s emerging rural policies – and the focus for farmers and landowners preparing for an uncertain future.
That is the message from East Anglian farmer Tim Breitmeyer as he takes the helm of one of the country’s biggest membership organisations.
The new president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is no stranger to national responsibilities, having served for 18 years in the Grenadier Guards, and still a proud member of Her Majesty’s Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, providing a ceremonial bodyguard for The Queen on state occasions.
But while his new post also requires a national focus, one of his central philosophies can be illustrated by looking no further than his own diverse business in Cambridgeshire.
Mr Breitmeyer farms 1,600 acres at the Bartlow Estate near the Cambridgeshire-Essex border, growing wheat, spring barley, oil seed rape and sugar beet, as well as contract-farming a further 3,200 acres in partnership with seven different landowners.
The business also runs a sugar beet harvesting and delivery operation, has a private shoot, and rents out 5,500 square feet of office space in a former cattle yard which is now home to tenants including a private nursery school, a property management company, a double glazing firm and an IT company. This diversification is reaping an increasing proportion of the farm’s profits.
“I am the first to admit that it is my most profitable farming,” said Mr Breitmeyer. “I think this is probably one of the key tenets of our food policy.
“We are quite clear about the fact that all farmers have got to look at how they use the land itself. There may be some areas of the farm that are not productive, and could be put to better uses.
“It could be someone looking at flood risk management in the Waveney Valley, or a stewardship scheme, or renewable energy, or housing. In my part of the world housing is critically short and all our villages need a little bit of organic growth to survive.
“So I think there are lots of different ways that farmers can use their land and the remainder of their buildings. You may have stored grain in a barn in the past, but is it the most profitable use for it in the future? My buildings housed cattle for 30 years, but was it the most profitable way of using that asset going forward?
“We have all got to look at what we own and how we use it in the future. That is not say that farming doesn’t take centre stage, but it needs to be making more with less.”
Mr Breitmeyer said there needs to be more “flexibility” in the planning system to help rural businesses convert buildings and find new income streams, and better digital connectivity so they could compete with urban businesses.
But his biggest plea to policymakers was to end the uncertainties generated by Brexit.
“We need an environment of certainty so we can invest in confidence in our business going forward, “ he said. “First of all there is this whole business of a suitable trading environment.
“There are lots of markets out there which will be good for us, which developed over time because of the USP we have of good, high quality British food.
“There will be lots of opportunity here. But because of the free trade we have had over 40 years with markets revolving around Europe, to provide the certainty I was talking about we need to have access to European markets for as long as possible in a free trade agreement.
“That must be the starting point. In East Anglia some of the alternatives will involve a 5-6pc drop in cereals profitability, and an 8pc cost of trading going forward. That is 14pc lost from a tonne of wheat that is only worth £130. That takes you from break even to a loss-making situation.
“Our vision is to enable a profitable and sustainable land use going forward. All that must start with the profitability of food production.
“We have always quoted the mantra that the greenest farming is done by those who farm in the black. We need profitable farm enterprises to deliver the environmental benefits that people are looking for, and the stewardship of natural resources that we need to try and maintain.”