Interest & Opinion

12 Nov 2019

Opinion Piece: How to Survive in Agriculture in Post-Brexit Britain

By the time this hits the website, it could be that the whole Brexit debacle will be but a dim and distant memory! And yes, pigs really do fly!

But, whatever, one of the common themes around Brexit has been the near unanimity from businesses of all shapes and sizes screaming out for an end to all the uncertainty.

Well, for Agriculture, I reckon we actually have quite a lot of certainty – it’s going to get tougher!

But, for those businesses who embrace the changes (what other option is there other than Ostrich farming perhaps with head firmly in sand) there will be a whole range of new opportunities.

So, to survive and even prosper, what are we farmers to do?

We have to get better at what we do. But it was ever thus. It is just that now we are probably facing the most extreme test of our resilience – a thing that farmers the world over are renowned for physically but will increasingly need to also become renowned for their business resilience.

In any population of businesses, in any sector of industry, if you look at what differentiates the top 1/3rd from the rest you might ask:

  • Is it access to better kit?
  • Is it access to better technology and R&D?
  • Is it access to better staff*?
  • Is it access to a better credit system?

I would suggest that the answer to all the above is an emphatic “No”

We all have access to the same basic set of resources. Yes, in agriculture, soil quality has a significant role to play but there is still a significant difference in performance across business on the same soil type.

The simple fact of the matter is that the top 1/3rd simply use all those resources better – they are more skilled. *And specifically regarding staff, they have a “way” of recruiting the right staff and then training and developing them.

But training and development can be a bit of a minefield and so in recognition of this several organisations are working hard to make the whole process less daunting and more accessible.

And, of course, Grow Yorkshire are at the forefront of this drive in our region and will be able to help guide farming businesses not only in terms of training per se but also maybe help with funding in certain situations.

So, if like me, you from time to time, peer wantonly over your (very successful) neighbour’s hedge, maybe we should instead occasionally look in the mirror?

One final thought. I once heard an eminent, though hugely controversial agricultural economist challenge:

“Do (farm) businesses invest because they are profitable or to become profitable?”

Given that training is just like any other investment, maybe now is the time to invest in training to become profitable?


Richard Longthorp

Richard Longthorp is now the self-acknowledged “Old Fart” of his East Yorkshire family farming business  growing arable crops and rearing outdoor pigs. A former chairman of the National Pig Association, he has also been involved for some years with several bodies trying to make skills and training more “integrated into and  fundamental and accessible to farm businesses” and a career in Agriculture that is seen as one of choice rather than all too often as one of last resort.

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