Health and Harmony: the future of UK Agriculture

Tonight sees the deadline for responses to the Defra (The UK Dept for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Command Paper on future policy for Agriculture.

Despite reading the document carefully I can’t clearly see what the farmer or farm of the future might look like, but I do get a sense of a higher and more demanding regulatory baseline, albeit with an aspiration for it to be administered more sensibly.

Productivity seems to be important (or is that profitability?  Should the two be conflated?) but there are no clear statements on the nature of the productivity improvements – labour productivity? Total Factor Productivity? Capital productivity? In terms of output or value added …..

As a strategy document the Command Paper seems to offer no clear analysis or evaluation of the current ‘state of the industry’ (eg SWOT analysis or the like); little real analysis of the trade environment (PESTEL) or how it might develop post Brexit. There is a kind of acknowledgement that UK farming’s USPs (Unique Selling Points) are about quality and welfare, and its potential to provide ‘public goods’ but is a strategy based on these factors supported by evidence from the marketplace?

This all seems to herald a tough regulatory baseline against which farmers increase the use of automation, Artificial Intelligence and local labour resources, acting cooperatively and with access to a range of insurance products to protect against volatility but with fallback protections from the government against extreme events in which the provision of public goods will somehow be recognised – at the lowest level through compliance requirements, but perhaps through government payments of some sort at higher levels.

The role of the cooperatives may extend to landscape and catchment scale land management. The leading models in terms of current enterprises seem to be pigs and poultry. We can expect to see regression in direct support with the bigger providers potentially seeming to have the most to lose – this looks like an interim period after which all producers will see regular direct payments abolished.  But who can provide more in the way of public goods?  Smallholders or large-scale farmers and land managers?

There is little discussion of husbandry itself, or the more general commercialisation of farming and farmers – a good business focus and discipline would go a long way to addressing many of the omissions from the Command Paper.

This also reflects the absence of commitment to commissioning and using business/market/behavioural/economic research into the industry itself – this would give well informed answers to many of the questions raised. The questions themselves look as if they will limit the scope of consultees’ responses eg the consultation questions on p35 where two lists are offered from which the preferred three options have to be selected from each: what if the bottom three on list one were above your top three on list two?

It looks as if we can expect to see an emphasis on off farm measures – bringing in benefits of public education, health provision, infrastructure, border protections, biosecurity/phytosanitary measures, labour schemes, apprenticeships.  There is not a lot of obvious commitment to agricultural R&D as such.

Business, leadership (HRM), husbandry, science and ethics should be at the core of any future strategy for the industry along with the answers to some basic questions about the role of farming, food production and food self-sufficiency in a modern western economy.  Did you find these in the Command Paper?  I don’t think I did.

A new Agriculture Act is promised.  Perhaps like its 1947 predecessor we need new definitions of good husbandry and sound land management (estate management in the 1947 Act).

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Rural Proofing: a key reference for rural activists and analysts

Rural analysts and activists take note.  Defra has updated its rural proofing guidance this week.  This will be a key reference for anybody interested in the development and impact of policies which affect rural areas.  Why?

Because policy measures are meant to have been ‘rural proofed’.  So the criteria for rural proofing are important because they provide a framework for the independent evaluation of rural impact.  They are also therefore a sound basis on which to challenge measures which may adversely affect rural economic, social and environmental interests, or to promote measures which will support these interests.

The Defra guidance tells us:

Thriving rural communities are vital to the English economy. A fifth of us live in rural areas and they are home to a quarter of England’s businesses, and generate 16.5% of the English economy. Rural areas face particular challenges around distance, sparsity and demography and it is important that government policies consider these properly.
Rural proofing is about understanding the impacts of policies in rural areas. It ensures that these areas receive fair and equitable policy outcomes. This guidance sets out a four- stage process to achieve this objective.

Figure One of the Defra Guidance offers this four stage process for rural-proofing:

Rural Proofing Process

The Guidance goes on to suggest this way to assess rural impact:

Rural Impact How to Assess

Worth a look for anybody concerned with rural policy and development nationally, regionally or locally.

Concise Rural Taxation 2017/17 Now Available

Concise Rural Taxation (formerly Taxation for Students of Rural Land Management) is now an annual publication.  This year’s edition is now available. Continue reading “Concise Rural Taxation 2017/17 Now Available”

Strategy and the land manager

These slides provide an update on the survey I have been undertaking for my RAU 100 Club/RICS (Royal Agricultural University/Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Fellowship on the topic of strategy in rural estate management. The 151 respondents to date have been involved in the management of at least 1.973 million acres in the last year, and potentially up to 4 million acres. It’s therefore probably reasonable to claim a mid figure of 3 million acres, or at least 1 million hectares. Analysis continues but there are already some very interesting results.

Estate Management Strategy: a survey

Please can I invite readers to complete a short survey for me, particularly if you are involved in land or estate management on any scale.

There are seven questions, and it should take no more than a few minutes to complete.  This link will take you to the survey:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RKDDXRZ

The results of the survey will be published in my report for the RICS/RAU 100 Club Fellowship (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors/Royal Agricultural University).  They should be useful to estate managers in extending our understanding of the role of strategic planning on the rural estate, and helpful to students and course designers.

If you would like to receive a summary of the results there is an option to provide your contact details but other than this individual responses will be confidential.

Thank you in advance for your assistance and input.  The preliminary results will be available at the National Rural Conference at the RAU on Thursday 18 June.  Booking details here:

http://www.rics.org/uk/training-events/conferences-seminars/rics-rural-conference/cirencester/

Business tools for the rural estate: long and medium term planning

What business tools or techniques do we use on rural estates?  Does it all boil down to annual budgeting, assessing performance against projections, capital project planning, the occasional tax review?  Or is there more to it than that?  Strategic environmental analysis perhaps?  Simple SWOT analyses?  Sophisticated investment appraisal using DCF?  Stakeholder analysis?  Cost benefit analysis?  Multi-criteria decision analysis?

Over the next few months I will be researching this question for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors/Royal Agricultural University 100 Club Fellowship.  Please help me by nominating your preferred strategic management tools for the rural estate.  A survey will also be launched soon.  The results are due to be presented at this year’s RICS Rural Conference, Land – delivering on all fronts on 18 June 2015.

So  please do help us to get off to a good start by sharing your experience of planning, marketing and decision-making techniques and tools on the rural estate through the comments box below – or if you would rather do so privately please use the ‘contact’ tab to send me a message.  I look forward to hearing from you.