Farmers need to be 'on top of the game' if they are to prosper
There's a good future for UK farming – though it will never provide a scenario of easy profits.
That upbeat message was delivered to an audience of 65 agricultural professionals in Exeter at the 2013 Andersons Seminar.
Despite a disastrous year for farm fortunes, economist and Andersons' partner Graham Redman said he was convinced of a rosy future for agriculture – but with conditions.
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"Farmers, as business people, will need to be on top of their game if they are to prosper," he said.
"Some will inevitably fall by the wayside, but this process of creative destruction will provide opportunities for the best farmers."
The industry would remain volatile, not just because of the weather, but also animal and plant diseases and "political whims" through CAP and other legislation.
A most striking feature of the future year would be the large and growing difference between the best and the worst, particularly in skills and attitude.
While the wider economy would remain sluggish, low borrowing rates for farmers were positive.
"There are still huge opportunities for collaboration between businesses," said Mr Redman.
While he conceded there was an overall decline in the number of farmers, by between 1 and 2 per cent a year, this was healthy, he said. "It shows the industry continues to restructure and reform year on year."
The last few years had seen a recovery of profitability to farming after a slump from the late 1990s. "It's too early to say whether this is a blip, like the mid-19990s, or the start of a new long-term trend," he said. "But I would suggest this actually is a turning point for agriculture, because there's potentially a change afoot for farming, with more interest and money coming into the industry at the moment."
There was an increasing trend to think about farmers not as an homogenous group, but to try to categorise them more finely, looking at farmers by their characteristics, the way they see the world, what their prime motivations are and how they reacted to external factors.
The largest category was the 41%who see their enterprises as modern family businesses, looking for family success and income and considering financial planning important. While 23% saw themselves as "custodians", viewing farming as a way of life, with pride in the job, heritage and the environment, 22% were pragmatists, focusing on business success, with an emotional connection to farming, and 6% saw farming as a lifestyle choice, a pleasure, but not a main source of income.
But roughly 7% were "challenged enterprises" with isolated and pessimistic farmers viewing it as a burden and a struggle.