At NFYFC’s AGRI Forum held at the Annual Convention, Young Farmers posed their questions on the future of their industry.
Vulnerability, change and the future of farming subsidies were at the heart of Saturday’s AGRI Forum at the NFYFC annual convention.
The event, run by the AGRI Forum steering group and chaired by its chairman Sam Dilcock, welcomed a host of Young Farmers keen to steer agricultural change within the organisation.
The panel was made up of Matt Naylor, managing director of Naylor Flowers, Alan Jagoe, past vice-president of the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) and Professor Jan Godsell, an expert in supply chain management.
Questions were open to the floor with some previously submitted from members unable to attend.
We take a look at the top four questions members brought to the floor.
Mr Jagoe was first to respond to the question posed to the panel and said: “A business needs to have a mix of supplying to the free market and to contracted agreements. I do not think it is necessarily wise to put all your eggs in one basket.”
He added risk should be spread in case one market collapsed, but currently most markets are depressed.
Prof Godsell said: “Take the Sainsbury’s Dairy Development Group. Given the current state of the milk industry, people in this group are doing well in comparison to other producers who are not on retailer affiliated contracts and are struggling.
"If you are offered a big contract, you would be silly to turn it down. Some producers have been directly marketing their milk to the end consumer and this is can also be very beneficial.”
In adding to the comment, Mr Naylor told the gathered Young Farmers, by the time they got to the age of 40 there would be considerably less farmers, suggesting the figure of 40,000.
He said: “The people who survive will be those who duck and dive and try different things in their business, with also an element of luck. I have had luck with my own business.
"I have been able to secure contracts with retailers, which has given me the confidence to grow my business.
"The commodity market can be difficult to operate in as you do not have much to sell when the prices are good, but when the price is bad, you will have an abundance. And that is the nature of commodities.”
Mr Jagoe suggested two changes he would make within the industry – credit and access to land for young farmers.
He said: “Credit needs to be set at a reasonable rate. There are huge variances in interest rates across the EU and the European Bank needs to bring this into line.”
Prof Godsell told the audience she would change the nature of the supermarkets.
She said: “I would ban in-store promotions and bring stability to the way they treat farmers. Farmers need stable prices and be able to build their businesses. There needs to be better collaboration throughout the supply chain.”
Turning to the Common Agricultural Policy, Mr Naylor said if he had the opportunity he would transfer the money paid in subsidies from pillar 1 to pillar 2, saying he thought the government would also rather this alternative. He added he would also change the inheritance tax on agricultural property to sit at 64.5 per cent.
Regarding opportunities for Young Farmers, he said: “You are only young for a short period of time and at the end of the day, you are either a good farmer or a bad one. I do not think any advantage should be given to Young Farmers, but I would say make the most of the physical advantages of being young.”
Mr Jagoe responded to this comment and said: “Just 6 per cent of European farmers are under the age of 35. This is going in the complete wrong direction, considering the growing population. European farmers cannot feed the world, but we can do it in the most sustainable way.
"I do not think Young Farmers should have a hand-out, but I do think they should have a leg-up.”
Mr Jagoe said: “The current structure of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is not working. I really think the definition of an active farmer needs addressing and it would encourage Young Farmers and others who are actually producing food.”
Receiving an applause from the audience, Mr Naylor said: “Every government up until now has argued against farmers receiving subsidies.
"Now with the referendum on our hands, they seem to have changed their minds, but at the moment the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) cannot even manage to get a cheque in an envelope on time.”
Mr Naylor also went on to urge Young Farmers present to work towards receiving their income from their customers and not the government.
"Although he added the payments should still be taken to ensure they are equal to other farming businesses and remain competitive.”
Giving an opinion from a non-agricultural background, Prof Godsell noted from the consumer’s point of view, subsidies make farmers slack.
Although admitting not to be an expert on the subject, Mr Naylor told the audience not to be scared of change, as they will more easily adjust than their 55 year old counter-parts.
He said: “Change should be adjusted to, and your business should adapt to cope with it. Treat it as an opportunity. We should not be an industry which is continually trying to defend our practices.”
Mr Jagoe added the bigger picture should be looked at, saying there were non-residual antibiotics available on the market.
He said: “Young Farmers are the best placed to adapt to change and use alternative farming practices.”
Prof Godsell said: “This could provide an opportunity to produce food, marketed as antibiotic free. You should be striving for the best welfare and health standards on farm, and marketing this to the consumer.”