UK_conference_Nicholas Saphir

Farmers must prepare for change and develop the right skills to overcome upcoming agri-industry challenges.

So said AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir speaking at the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM) National Farm Management Conference in London earlier this week.

Farming businesses that are prepared for and embrace change will be able to exploit the opportunities that always come with periods of evolution in the industry, he said.

“The industry needs to get on the front foot. There will be opportunities to grow new crops, to grow crops differently or to grow crops for new uses such as nutraceuticals,' Saphir said. 'For livestock farmers, increases in quality and provenance and innovation will offer potential.

'However, only around a third of farmers appreciate the extent of change that is coming and are preparing for it. The challenge now is to increase this proportion and get businesses thinking their way to success.”

Central to the development of a farm business capable of competing efficiently in the new post-subsidy and post-Brexit world will be developing the necessary skills, Saphir added.

Nevertheless, David Fursdon, chairman of Dyson Farming & TIAH warned the 230 plus delegates that labour availability is and will remain a big issue.

“To do well, you will need to look after your staff and equip them for the new ways of doing things. This will involve looking at areas such as wages and accommodation but also at how they are trained and what they are trained in,” he said.

“People working on farms are already mechanics, soil scientists, accountants, agronomists and livestock husbandry specialists. However new technologies that will pave the way to greater efficiency will mean farm businesses will require data analysts, specialist skills in drone operation, robotics, GPS systems and aerial analysis, to name a few.”

He said the optimum mix of skills will allow the effective adoption of precision farming techniques to help drive financial and environmental sustainability. Achieving this will require a combination of more structured training and development aligned with a willingness to recruit from across other industries.

Business Development Director of Agri-Epi Centre, Lisa Williams argued that technology won’t solve problems in isolation but can help be part of the overall solution. “Technologies have to be relevant to the farm, driving change and demonstrating clear value and impact. Then the skills are needed to optimise the delivery of the technology on farm.”

Closing the IAgrM conference, James Townsend, Chairman of Velcourt reassured the delegates, “Farming businesses in the future will require more management rather than less but management will have to have a broader range of skills and expertise than it does today.”

IAgrM is the professional body promoting continuing professional development for those engaged in agricultural, rural and environmental management.

The charity said its objectives are to promote high standards in the practice and business of management in agriculture; to promote training in all aspects of management in agriculture and to encourage the provision and attainment of professional qualifications in the principles and practice of management of agriculture.

The charity has an active branch network of branches spread throughout the United Kingdom and runs a programme of national events and training.

The National Farm Management Conference 2021 was sponsored by Promar International, Farmplan, Hutchinsons, Albanwise Farming Ltd, Yara, Craigmore Sustainables LLP, Roythornes, Figured, Openfield Agriculture Ltd., Agri Epi Centre, Barclays, Christopher Murray Recruitment, Kleffmann Digital, Old Mill, Terravost & Pure Farming, A Map of Ag solution.