Three questions every farmer should ask themselves ahead of Brexit

PUBLISHED: 13:26 23 November 2018 | UPDATED: 13:56 23 November 2018

Henry Barringer, a farm business consultant with Savills in Norwich. Picture: Richard Marsham/RMG Photography

Henry Barringer, a farm business consultant with Savills in Norwich. Picture: Richard Marsham/RMG Photography

Richard Marsham/RMG Photography

A Norfolk agricultural consultant has outlined three searching questions he believes every farmer should ask themselves as they prepare for the implications of Brexit.

The changing landscape of support payments and trade as Britain leaves the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy were among the topics discussed at property agency Savills’ farming business breakfast at the Norfolk Showground.

Defra’s Agriculture Bill, published in September, signalled the government’s intent to phase out land-based subsidies in favour of a new system of environmental payments which will reward “public goods”, such as work to create wildlife habitats, public access and flood management.

Norwich-based farming consultant Henry Barringer said the top-performing farms are not reliant on the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) subsidies, and the most forward-thinking businesses are planning ahead for how they manage these changes – particularly in light of the continued uncertainty over how the UK’s future trading relationships will affect farm profitability.

With this in mind, he said all farmers should consider three key questions:

• Do my crops make money?

• What does my cashflow look like without BPS?

• Should I still be farming at all?

“Norfolk now has some of the most forward thinking and innovative farmers in the UK,” said Mr Barringer. “They are looking at their business structures, they are looking at their costs and they are diversifying. They are embracing agri-environment as a positive, and they are looking for collaboration and machinery sharing.

“To hear of some farmers still not doing any of this is worrying. In my opinion, we should all be asking farmers three questions:

“One, do your crops make money? If not, why on earth are you growing them? Just because your dad grew them, and his dad before him grew them, it is not a good enough reason. You will be amazed how often this is the reason behind cropping decisions.

“Secondly, how does the business look without BPS? What can you do to mitigate that?

“Three, inevitably, it leads to the question: Should I be farming, or is it time to look at something like collaboration, succession, or even selling up?”

Mr Barringer said the environment would be a key focus for farmers after Brexit, with the Agriculture Bill suggesting public funding would in future be directed towards environmental protection, public access, mitigating climate change and improving the health of animals and plants.

He said this would create particular opportunities for Norfolk farmers to earn payments by helping to link important wildlife sites and nature reserves.

“If environment is going to be the direction of travel, then Norfolk is blessed with three truly important sites,” he said. “We’ve got the Broads, the Brecks and the north Norfolk coast.

“You might say it is all well and good, but what about if I am nowhere near any of those? Well Natural England are looking at a much larger landscape scale and, going forward, connectivity of these areas is going to be a much larger thing.

“By being in agri-environment schemes we are trying to make corridors to connect between these major sites. 70pc of Norfolk farmers are currently in that sort of scheme I think there is scope for this number to be raised much higher going forward.”

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