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Uncertainty for new farmers

Thu 17 January 2019

Written by Michael Halliday, Farm Business Consultant

Having been tasked to write an article about uncertainty for new entrants to farming, the following quote immediately jumped to mind:

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is”. I Googled the full quote for accuracy, which reads “Uncertainty is the only certainty, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” (John Allen Paulos).

I felt this was a bit on the pessimistic side, so I decided to go with Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote instead: “There are known knowns... we also know there are known unknowns”.

So, what are the known knowns

  • The New Entrant / Young Farmers Start-Up grants are currently closed due to the budget being fully spent.
  • The New Entrant Capital Grant Scheme closed at the end of August for the same reason.
  • The current BPS scheme and New Entrants top up payments are guaranteed for one more year (2019 scheme year).
  • Agricultural funding “at the same level” has been guaranteed until 2022 by the UK Government (but only if the current Government remains in power).
  • The current UK Government favours a 25 year Environmental Plan to replace subsidies providing “public money for public good”.

and the known unknowns

  • Will there be further funding rounds for new entrants?
  • Will agriculture policy be fully devolved, or will there be a UK common agricultural framework with devolved variations?
  • What will agricultural support look like in the future, or will there be any at all?

The answers to the above questions will broadly affect the whole rural sector, not just agriculture or indeed new entrants. As I don’t have a crystal ball, the following thoughts are just that.

I think Scottish Government will be very keen to support new entrants and will announce future funding streams to support and encourage them in to the industry.

I am fairly certain that there will be a UK common agricultural framework - imagine the confusion if different parts of the UK had different food labelling legislation and also the outcry if farmers in Cumbria received substantially less / more support than those in Dumfries & Galloway.

The UK is currently only 75% self-sufficient in indigenous foods, which is good news for farmers and provides opportunity. On the downside, sheep farmers are particularly exposed to a hard Brexit as the UK produces more lamb than it consumes. I am concerned that post Brexit the UK Government will be so keen to do a trade deal with America and other food exporting countries that we will move away from the current high food standards set by the EU.

Long term agriculture support is a difficult one to predict. The UK Government have set out a vision for an environmental based support scheme. Many commentators in Scotland point out that Scottish agriculture is very different from that in England, with 75% of Scotland being less favoured area, compared to only 25% of England. There are many hoping that agricultural support in Scotland does not go the way of current environmental schemes, which typically favour large scale hill units and not relatively small but productive family farms.

To round things off, I go back to my original quote, there is certainly a degree of uncertainty out there and it seems certain to remain for a little while yet!

On a more positive note, agriculture is a long term industry and there is a rapidly growing world population to feed. A popular post on Facebook reads: “once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer” (Brenda Schoepp).

For further guidance on grant schemes or assistance in applying please contact our Dumfriesshire Office on 01387 402 277 or our Northumberland & Borders Office on 01665 606 800.