My favourite part of the week, an opportunity to leave the home office and emails behind and jump in the car and get out into the depths of the Great British countryside visiting farmers across England to get a detailed overview of their farming system and business. Being January, it’s also an opportunity to get out of the frost and have a nice cup of tea in an Aga heated room!
Purpose of the farm visit
The initial stage of the Future Farming Resilience Fund with NIAB is a half day farm visit from one of NIAB’s, Savill’s or AKC’s farm business consultants. The purpose of the visit is to have a chat about your business and use this to conduct a thorough business review to generate a farm business report. The structure of the review is based around an in-depth questionnaire developed by senior consultants across the three organisations to ensure no stone is left unturned. This can be conducted around the kitchen table or in the farm office before a tour around the farm and buildings to help get a real feel for the business and how it operates.
The review draws on various elements of the business, including the farming systems employed, financial information, personal resilience, inclination towards trials and innovation and options for diversification with the aim of producing a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the business. The real focus is on the strengths and opportunities which we will use to signpost options to build resilience into the business as the farming industry faces its biggest change in a generation.
Farm business report
The completed farm business report is designed to be a tool that farm managers can draw upon when making key management decisions and setting short- and long-term objectives for the business. We will also use the visit and report to signpost areas where your business can take advantage of the best technical advice and guidance available across the NIAB, AKC and Savills knowledge base. This follow-up technical advice and guidance will take the form of seminars and workshops, access to our resource library, as well as a one-to-one session with a specialist on a topic tailored to your farm business needs. The seminars and workshops will cover all manner of farm business and technical topics such as regen ag, alternative building use, diversification, and succession planning. The one-to-one follows up will be an opportunity to focus specifically upon your business and could be with a soil scientist, agronomist, regenerative farming expert, tax specialist or rural planning expert, to name a few.
When are the visits
To help us provide scope for the most effective delivery to arable, mixed, dairy and beef and sheep farming businesses throughout England, we have a network of 30+ experienced farm business consultants to undertake the farm visits. My approach in carrying out the one-to-one business reviews is to try and conduct two farm visits daily during the quieter periods of the season, meaning you can usually book a morning or afternoon visit. This means, we have up to four hours to discuss your business and to get as much detail into the review as possible so to enable you to get the most out of the further support available with FFRF until March 2025 when the support will end.
Farm visits so far
The variety of the farm’s seeking support has been wide ranging from smaller arable tenant operations to large mixed farms that have a whole host of enterprises on farm including arable, beef, pigs, solar panels, holiday lets, fishing lakes and pheasant shoots. Each farm has their unique strengths, weaknesses and most importantly their unique opportunities. It’s these opportunities that we are ultimately targeting to help build resilience into the business, to complement the new ongoing environmental payments. The ingenuity, entrepreneurship and passion for British agriculture and the countryside has been great to see and is what makes the job as a farm business consultant so fulfilling.
As well as farms that are at imminent financial risk due to loss off BPS we are also seeing highly profitable and diversified farms, and everyone in-between, seeking a business report through the FFRF, simply to highlight areas for improvement and to identify those idea seeds that might lead them on to their next successful enterprise. Current participants are also looking to get access to specific technical specialists from the three organisations to fine tune their operations and improve profit margins. The feedback so far is that it’s highly beneficial to have an external business review conducted to get that alternative perspective of the farm business. As one farmer put it this week:
“It’s rare that you don’t find at least one nugget of information from this kind of support”.
The general complaints we have seen on farm have not been surprising, lack of certainty surrounding the current schemes and what is deemed to be an unappetising financial reward. All I can say on that matter is that the government is listening to the feedback and Defra is getting there. We are eagerly awaiting the announcement of further SFI standards over the next month or so, on top of the announcement of an additional £1,000 to cover the administration costs of the scheme.
Due to rising input costs, I’m seeing a real interest in improving soils naturally with systems such regenerative farming or controlled traffic farming. Farms that have not had animals in their system for years are bringing them back in to graze cover crops, increasing fertility on the land and providing another source of income. It is interesting to see the on-farm changes in England that are a result of geo-political events worldwide, that just so happen to complement the new environmentally focussed on-going payments replacing the BPS, whilst simultaneously increasing margins. We will be providing technical information on farming system change and making the most of the on-going payments throughout the FFRF scale-up phase.
If you have already signed up to NIAB’s support with FFRF you should hear from us over the next few weeks to book in your initial visit and review and pass on information about our upcoming series of seminars.
If you haven’t signed up yet, I would encourage you to do so. It can’t do any harm to have an independent, confidential report produced for your business at no cost to yourself. You might just get something out of it.
If you would like to join us,
Looking forward to seeing you on farm soon.
Farm Business Resilience Consultant