New Anglia Farmers chief Jon Duffy says his five-year plan will embrace industry changes

Jon Duffy, the new CEO at Anglia Farmers.

Jon Duffy, the new CEO at Anglia Farmers. - Credit: Archant

The new boss of the country's largest agricultural purchasing group says the industry faces change ranging from 'mild to seismic' as he writes his first five-year strategy for the business.

Jon Duffy became the new group chief executive officer of Anglia Farmers (AF) in March, taking over the role from Clarke Willis, who stepped down after 15 years at the helm.

Mr Duffy was managing director of Gleadell Agriculture for nine years before joining Frontier Agriculture in 2005 as trading director – later becoming Frontier's business development director between 2014 and 2016.

He said he was looking forward to the challenge of building on the 'strong foundations' of his predecessor at AF, as he plots a course through the uncertainty ahead.

'We have a customer base who have the right to question and seek improvement and to make sure that the business is meeting their current needs, and their future needs,' he said. 'So one of the things I need to do is plot where the industry is going and where we want this business to go.

'There are certain things, looking forward, that we know. There are some things we have an opinion on, and there are certainly things that quite frankly we don't know. The one thing I absolutely know is that change is going to happen, and the pace of change is going to get faster.

'In 2019 when we leave the EU we will no longer be under the auspices of the Common Agricultural Policy and therefore there will have to be change in this industry. That could be anything from mild to seismic. At AF, we have to plan across that spectrum. We also realise we can have an influence in terms of talking to policy-makers.'

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Mr Duffy identified three main Brexit 'unknowns' affecting farms – access to global markets, legislation and regulation of pesticides and water, and the degree to which farms will be financially supported outside the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

'Every farming business is going to face these challenges going forward,' he said. 'When you have that amount of uncertainty, what you need to do in your business is tie down the bits you can control, and the bits where you can get certainty. That is where AF has this great advantage.

'Farming businesses by their nature don't have vast numbers of people doing their admin and procurement, so I believe that where AF fits totally into all this uncertainty is we become their professional in-house procurement arm.

'The farmer does not have to worry about whether they are buying their fertiliser or feed at the right price. If you can look after that, it gives them some certainty.

'If you go further forward, how land is farmed will change and the number of farmers may change, but what I do know is that land will still be farmed. Land will still be turned over and grass will still be grazed. Who is farming it and under what terms will change, but the amount of farming that takes place fundamentally won't.'

Mr Duffy grew up in Gloucestershire as the son of two teachers, and said his interest in agriculture came from a childhood friend who was the son of a dairy farmer.

'I just loved spending all my weekends and holidays on the farm with the cows, and went to agricultural college originally with the view of wanting to farm, but I had the wrong parents for that,' he said.

'I am well aware that farming is a business but it is also a lifestyle and an inherited thing.

'If I was a farmer's son, would my thinking be different? The answer is I don't know, but I can look at things differently. I am able to step above it and view farming as a business and take emotion out of it.'