Farm management consultancy Laurence Gould Partnership was one of 19 organizations selected to provide advice in the interim phase of Defra’s Future Farming Resilience Fund (FFRF).
weekly farmers asked general manager Keith Leddington-Hill how the program worked.
What are the main discoveries on the farm?
Farmers have been very receptive to the program and have found it very helpful in interpreting new financing options, says Leddington-Hill.
“We found that many candidates were looking for advice on the impact of BPS [Basic Payment Scheme] reductions and how this could be mitigated. Farmers have found the process helpful in helping them understand the current programs on offer, with an action plan emerging from the review setting clear goals for them to focus on.
See also: How farmers can benefit from the net gain in biodiversity
What do applicants typically want information and advice on?
Candidates are often looking to find new sources of income, which can offset the loss of BPS and help keep farm businesses viable, according to Leddington-Hill.
“We found that many applicants needed guidance on the various new programs and changes that are evolving as we move into the agricultural transition. There was generally a great deal of confusion in this area, with a myriad of information being released regarding future policy.
A tailor-made report rather than a general report was preferred by farmers adhering to the opinion of the FFRF.
Common areas of improvement
The Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) is one of the most popular options for farmers, especially since most have never participated in the scheme.
Mr Leddington-Hill said: “The sustainable agriculture incentive, while not generating a significant amount to replace BPS, can make a positive contribution to its replacement.
“There have been many diversification opportunities for farmers, the most common being the rental of farm buildings. Many have already diversified and are more willing to consider more off-farm income in the future.
Key tips for farming businesses
Finding new revenue streams as early as possible is key to helping offset the loss of BPS, says Leddington-Hill.
Change shouldn’t be left to the last minute – look at what companies are doing and try to take an outside perspective, he suggests.
Case Study: Rosemanowes Farm
Peter Green, who operates the 63ha Rosemanowes farm near Falmouth, Cornwall, participated in FFRF and received free business advice from the AHDB and AKC Consultancy.
The cattle farmer received one-to-one advice from AKC consultant James Berry, who was able to review the company’s finances and discuss various options and sources of additional income.
Mr Green said: “Just because I have a small business, I see no reason why I shouldn’t aim to be in the top 20-25% in terms of performance.”
The Farm Business Review (FBR) online tool was used to assess farm profits and losses and calculate the impact of BPS reductions.
“Spending one-on-one time with James helped set up several different scenarios and he was very open and honest about our business. For example, he pointed out that the beef business is currently not profitable, so we should consider reducing to a small handful of cattle or increasing the number to make it more viable,” Green said.
“Joining the FBR service gave me a great opportunity to check out what we do and speak to a professional who is exposed to various business models – some that are working well and some that need improvement.”
Overview of the future Agricultural Resilience Fund
Defra has released more information on the final phase of FFRF, which was set up to offer free consultancy advice to businesses in the transition from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
The scale-up phase is expected to begin in September 2022 and continue through March 2025.
Advice worth £32m is being offered for the final stage of the project, significantly more than the previous £10.7m mid-stage, which started in August 2021.
The intermediate phase has now ended or is about to end soon for most providers. However, many will continue to offer free trading advice until August 31, 2022.
An announcement on which vendors have passed the bidding process for the next stage is expected in July.
Have your say
Farmers who participated in the intermediate phase of the fund were asked by Defra to give their opinion on the programme.
Defra hopes to establish what was helpful, what advice was given for any changes made to businesses as a result, and what the experience was like.
A form for giving feedback can be found on Defra Future Agriculture Blog.
Prince’s Countryside Fund Agricultural Resilience Program
Free business skills training to help family farms plan for the future is also available to farms across the UK through the Prince’s Countryside Fund Farm Resilience Scheme.
It is open to dairy and livestock businesses and takes a whole farm and family approach.
The Englefield Estate has 17 tenant farms on 3,240ha in Berkshire and has funded places under the scheme to help its tenants adjust to new government agricultural policies.
Chris Webber has been a tenant of the estate since 2005, when he rented a 93ha farm.
Four years ago, he took over a neighboring farm and today produces silage, hay, straw and wheat on 324 ha.
“We have a 15-year leasehold farm and my vision is to spend five years working hard and 10 years generating money without having to work so hard,” he says.
The old pigsty was in disrepair and Mr. Webber converted buildings into industrial units for rent. It also owns 54 stabled and 40 budding pensions and sells hay and straw to the equine sector. “We grow 40 ha of wheat almost like a break crop between two to four year old grasslands.”
Having worked to generate additional revenue before, Webber was skeptical of what the resilience program could deliver, but it helped him to more closely assess the company’s performance and begin to approach succession.
The program consisted of six sessions with expert speakers. The group of tenants undertook an anonymous benchmarking exercise and learned how to better use their farm accounts, which Webber found helpful and prompted him to take a closer look at his business.
“Accounting isn’t just about taxation – we should be looking at each business individually rather than the farm as a whole,” he says.
Other topics included managing the farming environment and performing a Swot (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis on the business. The session that had the most impact on Mr. Webber was succession planning.
“I have four children and I have been given the task of telling them about my ambitions for the farm. Generations can be so easily confused, wanting different things.
Mr. Webber was surprised to learn that his children thought he wanted his two sons to take over the farm rather than his daughters. “I had to give that impression, but I’d be happy if one of them wanted to take over, although I don’t want to pressure any of them.”
His daughters are actually more enthusiastic than his sons. “It really allowed us to talk about it, which we had never done before,” he says.