Covid-19 negatively impacted 43% of farmers, says new survey

Virgin Money owned brands, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, carried out a survey in December 2020 with almost 300 farming customers to understand current and emerging industry trends on themes including Brexit and the impact of COVID, as well as future priorities and investment plans.

Predictably, 43% of farming customers experienced negative impacts due to Covid-19, with only 8% having benefited, mostly due to rising produce prices for beef and cereals. For around half of farming customers, the pandemic has has little to no impact.

The survey also asked questions about the future for agriculture, specifically on sustainability and the Net Zero agenda. Almost a third of respondents had already undertaken a Carbon Audit, with that rising to over 50% for the dairy sector, making it clear that farmers are very aware of the wider sustainability agenda and its growing importance to the future of farming.

The biggest priority for 86% of farming customers was the improvement of health and wellbeing for their workers on the farm, followed by tackling climate emissions.

Brian Richardson, head of agriculture for the UK for Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, called the results “very encouraging” and that they indicate farmers have obviously, despite all the uncertainty, focused on the challenges ahead and have a clear direction of travel with sustainability not just been seen to be about the environment but also working conditions and employment.

Another popular element present among the responses was the move towards an “AgriTech revolution”, with  56% of customers having recently invested in technology, with most focusing their investment around automation tools and precision farming, followed by a strong emphasis on renewable energy.

The survey recorded that 44% were feeling that Brexit would have a negative impact on their business, although the survey was carried out before a trade deal was agreed. In December 2020, 43% of agriculture customers stated that they “did not know what the Brexit impact would be.

One unexpected finding was that despite COVID-19, almost a quarter of customers had still diversified their enterprises within the last six months, demonstrating the agility and resilience of the sector.

Brian Richardson commented on the role of banks with farming heritage in light of the survey responses: “Across the UK, we are always talking to our customers through experienced Agricultural Managers, but this survey gave us a good snapshot of present thinking. It points to the challenges ahead for the agricultural sector, and will help the bank to better plan our work with customers to support them.

“As we move forward, I am very pleased our customers have been happy with the Bank’s response to COVID-19 uncertainty. Understanding their needs means we can be there for them even more. The significant uptake of Carbon Audits also shows a focus on taking the climate challenge seriously. Over the coming year the Bank will work to facilitate these investments on customer priorities, including in agri-tech, productivity, and the net zero agenda.”

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