Tom Heathcote, Head of Agricultural Consultancy at Knight Frank says knowledge is more valuable than grants or financial support
The agricultural sector is going through significant reform driven by new policy and legislation, changing consumer needs and requirements of land, food and climatic influences.
Whilst some businesses are receptive and open to change, a worrying amount are still hesitant and resistant to modification.
When challenged on this, a significant number of farmers said; they would like to affect change, however argued they lack the necessary knowledge required to do so.
This absence of knowledge covers several areas including; not understanding what alternative systems or approaches are available, not being aware of data and results to reassure them in their decision-making, meanwhile others are simply overwhelmed, unsure where to start.
The Agricultural Transition Plan states that the government will invest in technology and drive efficiencies through the sector, but with an aging and less tech-savvy farming population, they are struggling to know how or what to do to implement change.
Consecutive governments have sought to deliver change and reform through a combination of legislation and financial support, although this has not proved that successful.
For example, the ‘Countryside Productivity Scheme’ offers farmers 40% grant funding on a variety of capital items, however, farmers often lack the understanding about how to take advantage of this funding to effect change and make their businesses more efficient, as well as productive.
The government approach is that farmers will figure it out for themselves, which questions the value for money that this scheme delivers.
This extends to the management of businesses, in particular the financials. A significant number of farming businesses continue to operate on a cash only basis - empowering farmers with a basic understanding of profit and loss, as well as budgeting would make a significant difference and enable farmers to help themselves bring about the change.
The extent of the reform needed by many businesses will require government support; however, it is my view that knowledge is more valuable than grants or financial support. I believe it to be a fundamental requirement if the government wants to stand a chance on delivering its ambitious objective set out in the new Agriculture Bill.