Agriculture is an increasingly global industry. Our prices and profitability are determined by the supply and demand dynamics of the world market. Whether it’s wheat yields in North America or Russia’s ban on food imports from the EU, all shape the viability of UK farming.
Yet among these global dynamics, I was intrigued by a conversation with a livestock farmer. Whilst doing his farm accounts, he noted all the businesses he’d written a cheque over £1,000 to over the last 12 months. He told me he recorded over 80 different businesses and how, on further inspection, he was surprised at just how many of these businesses were within a 20-mile radius of his farm.
This got me thinking and I mentioned this to Rosey Dunn, our regional board chairman who farms on the outskirts of York. She thought she could trump his 20 miles! Through the course of a year, she buys feed from nearby farms and from a merchant six miles away. When farm machinery breaks, she is glad the agricultural engineer is just ten minutes away. The Dunn family had the same veterinary practice for the best part of 40 years; they’re based five miles up the road. As for professional services, her accountant and solicitor are in the nearest market town. And it’s a similar story whether she’s buying fuel or fencing materials; the businesses we interact most with tend to be local.
Such patterns of local expenditure characterise the majority of farming businesses. And that’s good news for our rural communities. The average farm business incurred costs of nearly £250,000 last year. With over 100,000 holdings across the country, the multiplier effect of that spending generates business and supports thousands more jobs across rural Britain.
Agriculture may be increasingly shaped by what’s happening globally, but we remain a sector that’s integral to the fabric of the British countryside and our local communities. Relying on the ups and down of a volatile global market means that we face unpredictable times. Regardless of size, many farm business will be asking some tough questions about what lies ahead. Now more than any recent time farming needs the support of the public.
In Yorkshire we’re proud of having a diverse farming industry with a greater percentage of mixed, tenant and family farming businesses than other parts of the country. We farm from the top of the Dales, Moors and Wolds down to below sea level on the Humber and our high quality products are enjoyed at home and abroad. As a national we export more lamb to France than they produce themselves. Farming is also the bedrock of the food industry which is our largest manufacturing sector. It’s central to the rural economy and protects the nation’s countryside and wildlife - look at the fine work being done by local farmers to help increase barn owl numbers after those consecutive harsh winters.
Yorkshire farming is at the core of what makes this county so special but it faces an uncertain future. Please support it by looking out for the Red Tractor or British produce when you shop. If it’s not being stocked please ask that it can be in the future. A good example would be to help our struggling dairy farmers by looking for British cheeses and yoghurts.
On behalf of the regions farmers - thank you all for your continued support!
Richard Pearson is the regional director of the National Farmers’ Union.