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Farmers believe coronavirus could ‘change agriculture for the better’, says survey

PUBLISHED: 13:30 17 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:30 17 April 2020

Emily Norton, head of rural research at Savills, has carried out an online survey to assess the impact of coronavirus on farming businesses. Picture: Jon Paul Ladd

Emily Norton, head of rural research at Savills, has carried out an online survey to assess the impact of coronavirus on farming businesses. Picture: Jon Paul Ladd

Jon Paul Ladd

Most farmers believe the coronavirus crisis could ultimately “change agriculture for the better” after the current disruption and uncertainty subsides, according to an industry survey.

An online “snapshot” survey carried out by Savills Rural Research on April 6-7 aimed to understand how the pandemic has affected practices and sentiments within the farming industry.

Key findings include that 29pc of farms have seen disruption to staffing and 43pc have experienced disruption in their routes to market as a result of coronavirus. But although “positive sentiment” has fallen since the start of the year, a majority of respondents (59pc) said they consider that coronavirus will change UK agriculture for the better. Only 5pc thought it would change it for the worse.

Despite the significant current challenges to the industry and its supply chains, the lockdown has underlined the importance of domestic food security and raised appreciation for the essential workers producing food for the nation – sparking hopes that it could influence the longer-term government approach to agriculture as Britain leaves the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

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Norfolk farmer Emily Norton, head of rural research at Savills, was co-author of the study. She said: “Our results give a fascinating glimpse into how practice and sentiment is changing across the industry as a result of coronavirus.

“There is evident and widespread disruption to staffing, farm practices and supply chains, with farm businesses having to innovate to secure and protect employees. At this time of nearing peak crisis, it is of course to be expected that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the industry, but this story of concern is outweighed by the dominant positive sentiment that was prevailing and has prevailed since the winter.

“Given the previous environmental bias in agricultural policy evolution, having the weaknesses of the UK’s approach to food security laid bare by the pandemic could serve to reaffirm the purpose that many farmers have been searching for in this new post-CAP era.

“This perhaps suggests why so many consider that on balance coronavirus will change UK agriculture for the better. It remains to be seen whether post-pandemic agricultural policy will be adapted to take this into account.”

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