The farmer: A new definition

Rob Edwards, business development manager, agriculture at Kubota UK.
Rob Edwards, business development manager, agriculture at Kubota UK.

From extreme weather scenarios, economic instability, the skills shortage and political uncertainty fuelled by events such as Brexit, it’s fair to say that farmers everywhere are having to face a myriad of obstacles in order to ensure that food production continues and their businesses remain competitive, writes Rob Edwards, business development manager, agriculture at Kubota UK.

Over recent years, we’ve seen the agriculture industry both accept these challenges and also embrace new ways of working in order to drive change and manage their farms effectively.

The traditional role of farm workers is changing, with diversification not only becoming a huge business opportunity but also the next stage in the evolution of agriculture.

Furthermore, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) recently released its latest statistics on the total income from farming in the UK, which revealed that these levels had fallen by £721 million (-18%) to £3,358 million in 2018.

But this only shows one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the current state of the UK’s agriculture industry. In reality, in the uncertain times we are living through, Britain’s farming fraternity has come out fighting.

In particular, it’s become crucial for farmers to diversify and adopt models such as agritourism in order to survive, and we have seen many do this with great success.

At its heart, diversifying simply means becoming a better business manager – and thinking outside the box – in order to ensure that farms thrive and can weather the uncertain times ahead.

This could involve selling something else, be it produce or something less tangible, like access to their surroundings or the environmental aspects of their land.

As the Basic Payment Scheme (previously the Single Farm Payment Scheme) is phased out over the next few years and we pull away from the Common Agricultural Policy, it’s become clear that if farmers do not add more sources of income to their basic business models, they are in danger of going out of business.

The upcoming Agriculture Bill, currently in review with the government, needs to provide our farmers with the support and tools they need to operate under these pressures, for the benefit of an industry that lies at the heart of our entire economy.

Across the country, there are many examples of farms that have diversified effectively and are multi-tasking in order to have multiple sources of income.

For example, when planning permission was passed for the M6 to be built through their farm, the Dunning family decided to create a cafe that sold local produce from the farm.

Forty-seven years later, they are running a successful multi-service business.

Diversification is not only a huge business opportunity for UK farmers, but it is also the next stage in the evolution of agriculture.