Farming’s positivity does not last into the future, NFU survey finds

There is plenty of positivity within the food and farming industries at the moment, but an NFU survey found that longer term confidence for after Brexit falls dramatically. Picture by James Hardisty.
There is plenty of positivity within the food and farming industries at the moment, but an NFU survey found that longer term confidence for after Brexit falls dramatically. Picture by James Hardisty.
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An encouraging proportion of the region’s food and farming businesses have taken action to deal with the political uncertainty that dogs the future of their industry, even if it is still proving to be “a real stumbling block to effective decision making”, the National Farmers’ Union said.

More than a third of both farms and wider food supply chain businesses in Yorkshire have made changes to their businesses to build resilience, the results of a survey carried out by the NFU found.

Members of the union’s Pride and Provenance campaign reported buoyant short-term confidence in businesses’ future plans but the positivity nosedives after next March.

By then, Britain will have left the European Union but with less than nine months to go until the split, the Government has tabled no firm plans for the country’s first domestic agricultural policy since 1973 and the future of trade with the EU is unclear.

The results of the recent business confidence survey - which were previewed exclusively in The Yorkshire Post on Saturday - show that 71 per cent of the 208 farmers who responded are either “very” or “fairly” positive about their business prospects, but just 37 per cent expressed the same sentiments for their futures post-Brexit.

Likewise, among the food, drink and other supply chain companies who responded, the same positivity fell from 82 per cent to 51 per cent in the same period.

Adam Bedford, the NFU’s regional director for Yorkshire and the North East, said: “It is encouraging to see a proportion of our farming and agri-food businesses taking steps to make themselves more resilient in the face of change. But the point was made by most that continued uncertainty is a real stumbling block to effective decision making.

“This is something we are raising with increased urgency in Westminster as well as stressing the importance of getting the right framework to encourage business confidence particularly during the transition period.”

The survey findings have been released in full today to coincide with opening day of the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate, and a year on from the launch at last year’s show of the NFU’s Pride and Provenance campaign.

The campaign intends to demonstrate the huge contribution the agri-food sector makes to the region’s economy. It represents 83 companies with a shared total turnover of £3bn and 25,000 employees.

The survey of those companies found that more than 40 per cent of both food and farming businesses either supply produce for export markets, or currently export directly or have plans to.

Mr Bedford said: “Comments from our exporting companies underlined the need to finalise new trading arrangements and bring an end to uncertainty.

“This is something we very much echo from a farming perspective with important sectors for the regional economy – most notably sheep – very reliant on a buoyant export trade.”

INVESTMENT MUST BE APPEALING

Grant funding from government to stimulate investment by food and farming businesses must continue in the coming years, the NFU said.

The delivery of productivity grants via the Rural Development Programme for England has been hindered by launch delays and underspend but are starting to deliver benefits for farm businesses, according to Adam Bedford, the NFU’s regional director, who said: “We would like to see these schemes continued through the transition to help support micro and small businesses, farm diversifications and to boost farm productivity.”

Any future measures must be designed in a way that inspires uptake and confidence if they are to be effective, he added.