Farmers need the right skills and to be primed to manage the industry changes

A failure to delay reacting to changes in the industry will just increase the pressure on UK farming businesses. 

Speaking at the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM) National Farm Management Conference in London, AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir said that 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.

“The industry needs to get on the front foot. 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.”  

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.  

David Fursdon, chairman of Dyson Farming & TIAH warned the 230 plus delegates that labour availability is and will 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. This will involve looking at areas such as wages and accommodation but also at how they are trained and what they are trained in,” he added.

“People working on farms are already mechanics, soil scientists, accountants, agronomists and livestock husbandry specialists. However 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.”

He said the optimum mix of skills will allow the effective adoption of precision farming techniques to help drive financial and environmental sustainability. Achieving this will require a combination of more structured training and development aligned with a willingness to recruit from across other industries.

Business Development Director of Agri-Epi Centre, Lisa Williams argued that technology won’t solve problems in isolation but can help be part of the overall solution. “Technologies have to be relevant to the farm, driving change and demonstrating clear value and impact. Then the skills are needed to optimise the delivery of the technology on farm.”

Closing the IAgrM conference, James Townsend, Chairman of Velcourt reassured the delegates, “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.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.