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'Business resilience and risk management must be a priority for the farming sector'

Over the past few weeks, we have seen how Covid-19 has impacted lives across the UK, affecting every aspect of how we live, work and socially interact, says Chris Lewis, a farming specialist at Marsh Commercial. 

It has become clear that the UK’s food supply chain is going to be considered evermore integral as we move forward. Farmers and producers, whilst staying resilient, have faced labour shortages, non-collection of milk, loss of markets for beef and lamb and a spike in fuel prices due to the shortage of delivery drivers.

 

Although the lockdown restrictions are affecting the business of farming, the pressures feel unassailable given the Government’s sharp and growing focus on food security.

 

Farmers now have the vital role of ensuring the food supply chain is as uninterrupted as possible.


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The pandemic has shown us that business resilience and risk management have to be consistent priorities for all companies, and particularly the farming sector.

 

Taking stock of potential risks now and planning for the long term is crucial to ensure that the industry remains in good stead.

 

Health and Safety

 

With fears earlier in the year about routine visits from HSE on farms and the ’fee for intervention’ charges farmers might face, the Covid-19 pandemic has temporarily parked this activity from the statutory authority. However, complacency is one’s worst enemy.

 

Farming is a hazardous industry, with one in five fatal injuries to workers occurring within agriculture alone.

 

School closures have increased the risk management needed on farms. It is essential to maintain the highest standards to protect children who are now at home all day.

 

Risk management

 

Farmers must consider the peak times of the year where increased demand or time pressures could lead to health and safety issues. Temporary workers during harvest picking, for example, may be less familiar with safety practices and machinery and should therefore receive full induction and training at the start of their employment to reduce the number of accidents.

 

Flooding

 

Before Covid-19, the UK experienced rainfall of heavenly proportion. Although burdensome at the time, crops are now at risk of failing without a seasonal downpour.

 

With food security having taken a platform, farmers have a responsibility to make sure those governing watercourses are taking action where appropriate.

 

Proactive land management, such as ditch maintenance, drain jetting, use of cover crops and water catchment can help to prevent damage to property, assets and business operations. Flood cover is vital and there are new event based options that can be useful in more extreme circumstances.

 

Rural crime

 

Due to the reduction in daily business activity, routine tractor theft is likely to reduce as markets become less accessible to thieves. However, empty wallets lead criminals to explore more creative methods, now namely in the form of fraud, be it a non-genuine phone call or a suspiciously worded email from HMRC about a potential tax refund. Cyber criminals will do everything they can to exploit this situation for their personal gain.

 

Without the right insurance cover in place and robust theft prevention measures, an incident may suddenly debilitate day-to-day operations.

 

When it comes to protecting operational assets, using immobilisers or trackers on vehicles or having Passive InfraRed sensors (PIRs) with security lighting around buildings, security gates and high hedging, can all deter thieves from trespassing.

 

From a cyber-security perspective, remember HMRC will never ask for personal details over the phone and always check the structure of the sender’s email is in line with the organisation’s usual format. Unfortunately, thefts do occur but there are several ways to prevent one becoming a costly and time-consuming mission to recover valuable assets.

 

Brexit and incoming legislation

 

One of the largest post-pandemic challenges that could redefine the farming sector in the UK will be new legislation. The industry is facing the Agriculture Bill, one of the biggest policy changes for a generation.

 

Along with Brexit trade deals, the farming industry is going to need to adopt diversification, innovation and increased environmental responsibility.

 

Farmers will need to balance the new requirements with maintaining their principal role as food producers. The quality of the provenance will be an opportunity for UK farmers to be in a position of advantage and help mitigate some of the risks down the line.

 

Thrive

 

This pandemic has adjusted the perception of risks that farming businesses are exposed to, but it has also served a greater purpose of fostering a better understanding of how important – and necessary - risk mitigation and resilience are.

 

The return on the time invested in long term planning, aided by specialist guidance, will ultimately secure livelihoods and enable the industry to thrive.

  • As the youngest son of a dairy farmer in Shropshire, Chris Lewis, a farming specialist at Marsh Commercial, a leading UK insurance broker and risk adviser, has first-hand experience of the issues that impact his family’s farms on a daily basis. Here he considers what risks may emerge on the back of the coronavirus pandemic, and how agribusinesses can prepare to avoid potential pitfalls, now and in the longer term.
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