Extreme weather patterns, access to labour and support payments are just three recurring themes for Young Farmers planning their future in the agricultural industry.
Following Farmers Guardian’s exclusive survey on the next generation’s outlook for the industry, we asked three Young Farmers from England, Scotland and Wales to tell us their hopes and fears for the future.
Here they talk about what they think they need to have a profitable, sustainable and competitive agricultural business, as well as the challenges they hope to overcome.
Subsidy, trade and access to labour are the three main concerns for Cobrey Farms tractor operator Tom Vines, who says although the future is bright, it remains uncertain.
The recent weather woes have stretched farm resources, and future feed prices are questionable.
“I think the situation remains that nobody is quite sure what implications may arise,” he said.
He added farmers needed to be told what payment avenues could be available post-Brexit – for example new woodland schemes, wildlife conservation and promotion, higher welfare standards – and what benefits could be gained, or lost.
Speaking from experience, seasonal access to labour going forward will be vital to ensuring the planting and harvesting of fresh produce.
“The year 2020 will be the most important time period for UK-based agricultural businesses, which need to determine productive longevity due to the changes we are due to face as a country,” Mr Vines said.
“A worry for me follows in the wake of the deluge which was autumn 2019. With only 20-25 per cent of wheat crops planting in Herefordshire by mid-November, fears are stretching towards grain and straw prices for the autumn and winter of 2020.
“We are already beginning to conserve straw usage for indoor cattle, in an attempt to save straw for the next season.
“In a season like this, all norms in terms of cultivation have gone out of the window.”
More extreme weather patterns are a concern, with crop rotations and planting methods becoming ‘ever more prominent’.
2020 will see an industry with a better vision for the future and one with more certainty, but it will not come without its challenges.
None more so than climate change and adverse weather patterns, according to Savills farm consultant Hamish Logan.
It was the weather ‘extremes’ having the biggest impact, and the fear is that it is only going to get worse.
“Crops are not being lifted and there is extensive damage to land,” he said.
“The extreme drought last summer affected cropping yields and livestock production was hit by the Beast from the East.”
The impact of Brexit could also enhance the shortage of seasonal workers and those with the ‘correct skill-base’.
And clarity on future support payments is necessary: “An industry without subsidies would undoubtedly bring opportunities, especially for Young Farmers,” Mr Logan said.
“It would also provide a fairer marketplace.”
And opportunities with the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs (SAYFC) will only get better.
Personal development events such as debates and panel evenings help like-minded people share each other’s view points, while UK and international travel opportunities helps broaden horizons and bring new thinking back home.
Mr Logan said: “Farming can be a lonely industry but by having an active Young Farmers Club in the area ensures the Young Farmers of today have a network of friends, helping to provide a strong work-life balance and the confidence to join wider organisations.
“A healthy mind-set is crucial to running a successful business.”
For fifth generation farmer Amy Eggleston, people are the future.
She says the industry should be ‘proud and share what we do’, focus on people skills and bring new youngsters into the sector.
On a personal level, Ms Eggleston is looking to build her own business alongside the farm and switch focus from technical performance – which was heightened during her father’s generation – to people.
Youngsters will be part of that, and farmers should be taking the farm-to-fork message into schools and engaging young people in practical business skills.
Time-saving technologies should be introduced, to help both the family and the business, and more focus should be placed on the unique selling point (USP) of British food and farming.
“More people need to see the importance of educating and promoting agriculture,” she said.
“We cannot keep relying on the bodies that represent us to promote what we are doing. Instead we need help in the marketplace to counter misinformation.”