The coming year will see a step-change for UK agriculture. Farms will have to adjust quickly to a new business environment which is likely to be more testing. This is the overall message from Andersons Outlook 2021 which has recently been published.
The hope is that 2021 will see life return to the ‘old normal’ after the upheavals of Covid-19. However, the farming sector faces a further set of challenges. The end of the Transition Period marks the start of the real Brexit. The ‘friction’ in trade between ourselves and our largest trading partner will be much greater – leading to higher costs which may well be passed back down the supply chain. Maybe as early as next year the UK will start to conclude independent trade deals with other countries. The danger here is that access to our agricultural market is granted in return for concessions elsewhere. UK farmers could be faced with low-cost competition, possibly producing to different standards.
2021 will also see the first year of the truly ‘renationalised’ farm policy outside of the Common Agricultural Policy. Although each part of the UK is doing its own thing and progressing at different speeds, the overall direction of travel is clear. In the future, there will be less support ‘as of right’, and land managers will be expected to deliver something to society in return for the funds they receive.
Andersons’ consultants experience is that this should not necessarily be something to be feared. There are still great opportunities to improve financial performance in all sectors of our industry. Without the distorting effects of direct support, there can be a greater focus on the areas of activity on farm that actually make a profit. Over time a stronger, more resilient industry should result, able to meet many of the other challenges that lie ahead.
With Brexit and (hopefully) Covid-19 moving down the political agenda, the environment will move back up. Especially with the UK hosting the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November 2021. The farming sector will be expected to play its part in meeting the country’s net zero aspirations. This will require a change in practices and systems. Whilst this will be process over many years, 2021 may be seen, in hindsight, as the year when concerted efforts to address climate change really began in earnest.
Covid itself will continue to present challenges to the farming sector. The UK is likely to suffer from an ‘economic long-Covid’ – the lasting financial effects of the massive spending that has been incurred to support the economy during the crisis. The Government will be looking to balance the books and this could mean tax increases. There may also be pressure on areas of spending deemed not to be a priority – for example farm support, despite earlier promises.
With such challenges in the year ahead, and longer term, farm businesses will need to be both resilient and adaptable. Andersons has been working ‘at the coal face’ with farmers and the allied industries for over 40 years assisting them to make the right decisions, whatever the business environment.
Outlook 2021 is sent to all Andersons’ clients and contacts. Additional copies can be obtained free of charge by calling 01664 503200. The publication is available to download from the Andersons Centre’s website and is accessible by clicking here.
Andersons will be running a series of webinars and seminars in the spring looking at the prospects for UK agriculture in greater depth. This includes two webinars taking place on 11th February which provide updates on profitability, trade and future farm policy. For more information, please go to the respective weblinks below;