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Farmers are ‘world’s biggest optimists’ but will need to plan for the world market

Savills farm walk at Barningham Hall. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Savills farm walk at Barningham Hall. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

Farmers are among the world’s “biggest optimists” but will have to plan the future of their businesses carefully to survive the UK’s separation from the EU.

Savills farm walk at Barningham Hall. Owner Thomas Courtauld speaking to the group.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYSavills farm walk at Barningham Hall. Owner Thomas Courtauld speaking to the group. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

This was the view of an agricultural consultant at an event for farming professionals designed to stimulate debate on topical issues.

This year’s Savills farm professionals walk took place at Barningham Hall and estate near Matlaske, owned by Thomas and Amelia Courtauld.

Topics under discussion on the walk through the estate’s woodland, meadows and fields included farm succession, countryside stewardship and repurposing agricultural properties.

In one of many discussions about Brexit, Mark Little, a specialist in estate and farm management at Savills in Norwich, said that the market remained “dynamic” for farmers – but that being thrust into the world market without EU protections could increase the volatility.

Savills farm walk at Barningham Hall. Owner Thomas Courtauld speaking to the group.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYSavills farm walk at Barningham Hall. Owner Thomas Courtauld speaking to the group. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“Farming is a very European and world market-protected business, but that is not going to be the case, we are going to be subject to the ebbing and flowing of the world market,” Mr Little said.

“If you look at the price of wheat, it does ebb and flow and you cannot predict any of it.

“Farmers are the world’s biggest optimists, who will produce something they are going to sell 18 months ahead into a market that they do not know and that means forecasting what cash you are going to need.

“It is down to chance and your planning ahead. That is not an easy game and it is what the Common Agricultural Policy has insulated farmers against. You are claiming for a solid payment and know it is going to appear.”

Savills farm walk at Barningham Hall. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYSavills farm walk at Barningham Hall. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Mr Little said managing non-farming assets such as landscape features – which are set to play a bigger part in the government’s new agricultural bill, due to be published this month – would be useful in mitigating risk once basic payments begin to decrease.

Henry Barringer from the food and farming team at Savills said around 55% of farmers are currently making an annual loss, even with the basic payments system (BPS) in place.

“I am encouraging my clients to be looking at a 20pc increase in yield and a 20pc decrease in costs, that is the area you need to be in to mitigate the loss of BPS,” he said.

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