All farming sectors are expected to decrease production in the next year

Tom Bradshaw

Tom Bradshaw

Image: NFU

The confidence of English and Welsh farmers is at an all-time low, a troubling new NFU survey has indicated.

The union’s Farmer Confidence Survey shows that short and mid-term confidence is at its lowest level since records began in 2010. Because of this lack of confidence, production intentions have also plummeted with all farming sectors expecting to decrease production over the next year.

The relentless wet weather has played a big part, with 82 per cent of respondents saying their farm businesses have suffered fairly negative (52 per cent) or very negative impacts (30 per cent), with mixed farms, arable farms and dairy farms having taken the biggest hits.

The survey was undertaken in November and December 2023, since when farmers have been battling relentless heavy rain through January, February, March and much of April. Were the survey undertaken again today, the union suggested the results would be even worse.

Farm business profitability has also fallen, with 65 per cent of respondents saying their profits are declining or their business may not even survive.

Call for government backing

The NFU has called on the government to recognise the extraordinary nature of what has been the wettest 18 months since 1836, warning that many farms may be unable to survive.

In its General Election manifesto, the NFU offered up solutions that political parties can adopt which would work to reverse this breakdown in farmer confidence and help safeguard homegrown food production. They include:

  • Planning for and rewarding farmers fairly for their role in mitigating flood risk and committing to the proactive management of Britain’s watercourses.
  • A smooth and seamless transition to new environmental schemes that are open to all farmers and growers, and ensure profitable long-term food-producing businesses.
  • Establishing minimum standards to promote a fair and functioning supply chain.
  • Developing and establishing core production standards that apply to agri-food imports.

‘Collapsed confidence’

NFU president Tom Bradshaw said: “These figures paint a really stark picture. Confidence has collapsed after months of devastating flooding, unsustainably high production costs and low market returns, and against a backdrop of reduced farm support as we transition to a new Domestic Agriculture Policy and associated farm support.

“Any business owner knows that without confidence and a steady cash flow, businesses will struggle to reinvest and remain viable. We have already lost more than 7,000 agricultural businesses since 2019 – no one wants to see that increase, least of all our customers who really value the high-quality, sustainable food British farmers produce. With climate change wreaking havoc on food systems across the world and geo-political tensions high, Britain cannot afford to lose its ability to feed itself.

“A lot is hanging in the balance ahead of the General Election. Political parties will rightly be focusing on how to reverse the cost-of-living crisis, and with food inflation still high and families struggling with food bills, supporting homegrown food production must be part of this.

“The good news is that there are solutions the current and future governments can adopt to help rebuild farm business confidence, from investment in our water management to developing core production standards for food imports.

“While we are seeing record lows in farmer confidence, I never cease to be amazed by our amazing farmers and growers; their passion, drive and ingenuity for the work we do. Innate tenacity means we do not give up easily.

“In the run up to this election, I urge all political parties to recognise this resilience and the crucial role we play in sustaining our nation. With their support we can do more to contribute towards our national interests – producing more sustainable, affordable food and renewable energy, driving economic growth, providing jobs, and delivering our national environmental ambitions.”