Serving the Farming Industry across East Anglia for 35 Years
Growers and livestock producers should prepare now to help their businesses survive looming changes to agriculture, farmers have been told. Farmers need the right skills for industry change

Growers and livestock producers should prepare now to help their businesses survive looming changes to agriculture, farmers have been told.

Businesses who are prepared for and embrace change will be able to exploit the opportunities that always come with periods of evolution in the industry, said Nicholas Saphir, chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

“The industry needs to get on the front foot,” Mr Saphir told the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM) National Farm Management Conference in London.

“There will be opportunities to grow new crops, to grow crops differently or to grow crops for new uses such as nutraceuticals. For livestock farmers, increases in quality and provenance and innovation will offer potential.

“However, only around a third of farmers appreciate the extent of change that is coming and are preparing for it. The challenge now is to increase this proportion and get businesses thinking their way to success.”

New skills

Central to the development of a farm business capable of competing efficiently in the new  post-subsidy and post-Brexit world will be developing the necessary skills, Mr Saphir told 230 delegates at the QEII Centre, Westminster, on 16 November.

Even the biggest farming businesses are having to adjust. David Fursdon, chairman of Dyson Farming, which farms more than 14,000ha (35,000 acres) said labour availability would remain a big issue.

“To do well, you will need to look after your staff and equip them for the new ways of doing things,” said Mr Fursdon. “This will involve looking at areas such as wages and accommodation but also at how they are trained and what they are trained in.”

People working on farms were already mechanics, soil scientists, accountants, agronomists and livestock husbandry specialists. But a mix of additional new skills would become increasingly important.

“New technologies that will pave the way to greater efficiency will mean farm businesses will require data analysts, specialist skills in drone operation, robotics, GPS systems and aerial analysis, to name a few.”

Precision farming

The effective adoption of precision farming techniques is seen as a key driver of financial and environmental sustainability. But achieving this will require more structured training and development – and a willingness to recruit from other industries.

Lisa Williams, business development director of the Agri-Epi agricultural engineering precision innovation centre, said technology wouldn’t solve problems on its own – but it could be part of the overall solution.

“Technologies have to be relevant to the farm, driving change and demonstrating clear value and impact,” said Ms Williams. “Then the skills are needed to optimise the delivery of the technology on farm.”

Velcourt chairman James Townsend said: “Farming businesses in the future will require more management rather than less – but management will have to have a broader range of skills and expertise than it does today.”