UK agri overhaul report sets 5 key goals to secure industry’s future

The agricultural sector and Government must work together to lead a radical transformation of British farming, according to a new report published today (February 17).

The major report published by the Food & Drink Sector Council (FDSC) said ramping up productivity growth is the key to securing a successful future for farming amid significant changes to agricultural policy and the pressure to achieve net-zero emissions.

The report, prepared by industry experts for the FDSC, highlights the steps that together, industry and Government can take to overcome the productivity challenge that has long faced the British farming industry.

In the document, the Council’s Agricultural Productivity Working Group identifies five key areas for the industry to address to improve:

  • The need for UK agriculture to become more data-driven;
  • Development of the Evidence for Farming Initiative to address fragmentation in knowledge exchange;
  • Alignment of innovation funding and strategy to the needs of the industry;
  • Addressing the low uptake of agricultural skills and training;
  • The need for infrastructure and policy to enable productivity gains.

Peter Kendall, member of the FDSC and chairman of the APWG, said: “Leaving the EU has significant implications for who our industry competes with.

“Support systems are going to change and net-zero is in almost every headline you see. There’s a massive coming together of issues – a perfect storm that will bring with it huge challenges but also opportunities for the industry.

“The industry has come together to produce this report, pinpoint where the key challenges lie and how we, together should try and address them.

The challenge coming is probably as big as any ever experienced by our industry. We are operating in unprecedented and uncertain times and it is vital for the industry to operate as one.

“Farming is at the beginning of a revolution that will leave big chunks of the industry unrecognisable from today. Robotics, artificial intelligence, carbon capture and use of data just a few areas.

“We could be so much more effective through achieving unity of purpose.”

Overhauling ag

Shaped by a broad spectrum of experts and stakeholders from across the industry, the report highlights why agriculture’s rate of productivity growth is lower than many of its major competitors.

This could leave it in danger of being left behind by competitors, denying consumers and the UK domestic food industry affordable, sustainably produced agricultural goods.

It highlights the distinction between production and productivity. It also covers the greener future of farming, recognising that improving resource efficiency is essential to both productivity growth and sustainability.

Overhauling our innovation and knowledge exchange systems are critical components of the recommendations.

One of the main recommendations is the establishment of the ‘Evidence for Farming Initiative’ to create a single source of evidence-based practice, drawing from expertise globally to highlight what works.

The report also calls for an expansion of farmer to farmer learning and for the industry to embrace benchmarking through key performance indicators (KPIs).

Skills are also cited in the report with the lack of full staff proficiency driving up the operating costs of 38% of agricultural employers with skills gaps in 2015.

The report shows that evidence from the Irish Revenue shows that trained farmers in Ireland have, on average, a 12% higher profit margin than untrained farmers.

Kendall added: “If you look at our competitors, in 10 years’ time they are going to be in a far better position than we are in terms of driving the level of ambition for skills and training.

“So, the question is do we acknowledge that we have a productivity challenge and do we, as an industry, have the ambition to reverse this trend?

“We need clear policy and an industry working closer together than ever before through this period of transformation to meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.

“The importance will be in getting the infrastructure right. With technology, for example, there’s no point having black spots in rural areas.

We are in an age of major disruption and by creating a collective industry-wide ambition is the only way to deal with change and ensure we can compete in the next 10 years and beyond.

“Things are going to change beyond recognition very quickly. It is imperative that we help equip farmers to adapt and thrive.”

NFU president Minette Batters said the recommendations will offer a “significant boost to a sector that offers so much to Britain”.

“A welcome feature of the partnership we’ve formed around the productivity challenge has been the full involvement of industry and Government. This must be maintained as we move to act on these recommendations,” she said.