Nuffield scholars bring home lessons to benefit UK farming
THE annual Nuffield Farming Conference saw the latest crop of scholars present their research findings following a period of international travel on a variety of chosen topics. Olivia Midgley reports from Ashford, Kent.
Nuffield scholars have a reputation for producing thought-provoking reports from inspiring visits around the world and this year’s researchers were no different.
28 November 2014 | By Olivia Midgley
With topics including the opportunities for small family farms, getting the best from precision agriculture, breaking the UK’s wheat yields plateau and how to manage and communicate with staff in a farm business – the range of projects were as diverse as ever.
Jason Vickery’s timely report on how to reduce dairy farm costs in order to prosper in a global marketplace raised questions about the levels of efficiency in the UK dairy herd. It also highlighted how successful farmers were open to new ideas about learning, were prepared to adapt to change and, above all, were optimistic about the future.
The NFU’s head of Government and Parliamentary affairs, Matt Ware, used his scholarship to examine how agricultural policy could be influenced around the world.
He looked at the effects of ‘emotional’ social media lobbying in a number of countries and said UK farmers were capable of a 24-hour social media ‘mob rule’, which could sway politics and set the political agenda.
In many of the presentations, farming operations in New Zealand were lauded as being some of the most efficient and sustainable in the world – doing so even without any Government subsidies.
This led scholars to debate how UK farmers would cope if EU subsidies were scrapped.
WOMEN in the UK must have the confidence to ‘move out of their comfort zone’ and take opportunities to forge ahead with their careers and businesses.
North Gloucestershire sheep farmer Tanya Robbins said UK women were reaching new heights in agriculture; with prominent examples being Minette Batters becoming the first female deputy president of the NFU and Christine Tacon appointed as the Government’s first Grocery Code Adjudicator.
However, she said ‘old-fashioned values’ in the industry were still holding women back.
Visiting Canada, Norway, Kenya, Uganda and India, as well as the Isle of Man and Ireland, Mrs Robbins saw first-hand how the role of women in agriculture had changed in different cultures.
“There are a great many progressive family farms in the UK but, unfortunately, there is still a pocket with old fashioned views, believing the family farm should pass to a son, whether a daughter is better suited or not,” she said.
“Women are more involved in food production in developing nations but generally do not have rights to land/business ownership.”
However, some countries were more progressive, Mrs Robbins found. “In Norway I met women who have taken on their family farms through the Allodial Act giving them, as the eldest child, the right to ‘reclaim’ the farm,” she said.
“The perceived view of the ‘farmer’s wife’ is changing – we are farmers in our own right. Women are reaching new heights in agriculture – there is a groundswell of support but we must have the confidence to forge ahead.”
AFTER setting out to examine the differences between countries when considering passing down the family farm, Rebecca Hill found the issues and problems were the same the world over.
Helping older farmers retire with dignity and allowing the next generation to get on and farm is a problem which many countries, including the UK, have been slow to address.
Ms Hill, who farms sheep and arable in partnership with her mother in Dorset, said dividing the emotion from the business was key but, in many cases, it was practically impossible to do because of the nature of family farming.
She said two of the most important things she learned during her Nuffield experience were ‘a business would not grow without youth and/or debt’ and, secondly, ‘businesses need passion to be able to succeed’.
The average age of farmers in the UK is 58 and Rebecca admitted giving up control is ‘hard, but essential’.
She said: “Succession is not about going and playing golf five days a week; it is about reinventing your role in the business to allow your successor to get on and farm.”
Ms Hill found large-scale pioneer farmers in countries such as Paraguay and Brazil had less emotional constraints than those in ‘old’ countries, such as the UK and France.
“In countries with a huge landmass, the land is often passed down separately from the business, typically involving off-farm siblings in the inheritance,” she said.
She also told delegates she believed tax was a major issue.
“Unless UK inheritance tax laws are changed, many businesses will do little to pass down their assets to the next generation because the most tax-efficient way not to have to pay duty on one’s estate is simply to hang on to it until you die,” she said.
The Common Agriculture Policy is not Common.
We need to find out how are European neighbours get around schemes to their advantage and either renegotiate the Policy or get out of the EU.
We need a British Agricultural Policy for Britain
and we need a Minister for Food !
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