OPINION: Here's how farming can progress in the face of adversity

Tony Bambridge is managing director of B&C Farming in Marsham and chairman of the NFU’s Regional Advisory Board

Tony Bambridge is managing director of B&C Farming in Marsham and chairman of the NFU’s Regional Advisory Board for East Anglia  - Credit: NFU

Adversity could be a catalyst for progress for East Anglian agriculture, says Norfolk farmer Tony Bambridge, chairman of the Regional Advisory Board for the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said that "adversity is the mother of progress".

None of us working within agriculture will have seen some commodity prices as high as they are now, nor the cost of fertiliser, fuel, electricity and inputs at such levels.

It’s a very confusing picture and, frankly, just a bit scary.

As an industry, we have significant risk to our economic sustainability, partly because of the insatiable requirement for cash just to keep trading, but also because of the lack of control we have over our output values, as the ultimate "price takers".

The latest report by AF Group on agricultural inflation made sobering reading, showing a near 24pc increase in the cost of farm inputs in a six-month period, on top of the 22pc increase in the previous year.

Put simply, for every £100 a farmer needed in October 2020 they will now need £150 to do the same thing.

Grain prices may have increased but many products are still low value and some sectors, especially serving retailers, are pegged back at very modest values. 

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So, against this adversity, how can we progress and what can we do to survive and, perhaps eventually, prosper?  

Clearly, using more of our own resources, at improved efficiency, has to be right. We use a lot of cover crops and organic manures, so the change in the Farming Rules for Water, obtained after significant work by the NFU, is a real business benefit.  

Defra has launched the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) soils standard. It’s a start, but we need changes to the scheme to make real progress on this essential support if we are to embrace a more regenerative type of farming.  

Anything that reduces costs will also have a positive effect on our viability, so I was pleased that we have retained the use of rebated (red) diesel and the option to apply urea fertiliser.

We are going through our most challenging period for perhaps eight decades, but out of this adversity will come inspiration and the need to use initiative and invention to progress towards a more sustainable, probably greener, resilient agriculture.

The enthusiasm to embrace and use science because of this adversity will create progress.

And, while it seems our government doesn’t believe food is an important resource to nurture, we will have lots of customers who want to buy our quality local produce, so we just have to stay in there.