Following the completion of 6,241 IACS forms during the 2020 claims period, many of the SAC Consulting team, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), have seen a shift in the outlook of farmers and crofters ahead of Brexit.
Niall Campbell, SAC Consulting’s regional manager for north-west Scotland, and Rob Black, his Oban-based colleague, said that the combination of the global pandemic and leaving the EU has prompted people to think differently.
“What I’ve been hearing from a number of my clients is that Covid and Brexit are the shocks that they have needed to plan how their businesses can stand on their own two feet in the future,” explains Rob Black.
He said that the realisation that the Basic Payment System will end and big changes in farm support are inevitable has led landowners and managers to explore how to become more stable, efficient and competitive.
“Conversations have focused on changing things that people are unhappy with, for example agreements where the tenant feels that their rent doesn’t reflect the risk that they are bearing,” he notes. “So, it’s been valuable for clients to use our team as a sounding board to understand the role of the business assets, their rights and the value exchange with the landlord ahead of rent negotiations.”
Mr Black says he has seen a wide array of changes that businesses have, or are about to, put in place. “Many of these changes are small, but for the people implementing them they are bold and represent a move away from the traditions and norms within their families which takes great courage.
“One farm I work with recognised that they needed to increase the number of end markets and that selling direct was what they needed to do; now they are marketing butchered lamb in meat boxes, are direct selling ewe lambs for breeding and selling the remainder through the live ring. Having several market outlets builds the business’s resilience.”
“On other farms, it’s sensitive matters like succession planning which have been aired for the first time,” he adds. “I have huge respect for those who have seen the need and are doing something about it. It’s been really heartening to feel like our team has been there to help people talk through their options and develop a viable plan.
“What’s been critical for all those who are planning a different future is that they have started the conversation with us and those near and dear to them; that is a really tough thing to do.”
Mr Campbell adds: “For some businesses, the pandemic has almost completely passed them by, for others, the loss of diversified income from tourism has been dramatic and it’s made the IACS claim even more important than usual,” he says.
“Support payments can equate to over 75% of the income of the farms and crofts in the north-west region, so it was essential that SAC Consulting responded to lockdown immediately to ensure that all of our consultants could run their IACS client meetings online and from their homes. Sixty-one days to process 6,241 claims was a huge undertaking, but we made it work and got all of the claims in on time. This emphasises the dedication and flexibility of our local staff and desire to assist our clients’ businesses.”