NFU survey shows collapse in farmer confidence

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The confidence of Melton Mowbray farmers and those across the country and in Wales is at an all-time low, a new NFU survey has revealed.

The Farmer Confidence Survey shows that short and mid-term confidence across England and Wales is at its lowest 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.

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

NFU regional board chair Jane BassettNFU regional board chair Jane Bassett
NFU regional board chair Jane Bassett

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

Farm business profitability has also fallen as 65% of respondents said their profits are declining or their business may not even survive.

The NFU is calling for 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.

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Farmer Jane Bassett, NFU Midlands regional board chair who represents the county, said: “The farm confidence survey makes sobering but not unsurprising reading and it reflects what farmers on the ground are experiencing on a daily basis.

“We have seen serious issues with extreme weather and flooding, high on farm costs for things like fuel, fertiliser and feed and ever reducing farm support.

“Politicians must and should enable farmers and growers to become more resilient to volatility and extreme weather conditions, so we are able to invest in producing environmentally friendly, traceable food.”

In its General Election Manifesto, the NFU has provided solutions that political parties can adopt which would work to reverse this breakdown in farmer confidence and help safeguard homegrown food production, including:

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· Plan for and reward farmers fairly for their role in mitigating flood risk and commit to the proactive management of our 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.

· Establish minimum standards to promote a fair and functioning supply chain.

· Develop and establish core production standards that apply to agri-food imports.

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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, that business will struggle to re-invest 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.

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“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.”

(The UK has suffered from four further storms since the start of 2024. 797 NFU farmer and grower members were surveyed between 21 November 2023 and 5 January 2024.)

Key concerns respondents outlined for the year ahead include:

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  • Phasing out of BPS – 86% expect it to have a negative effect on their business.
  • Input prices (e.g. fuel, fertiliser and energy) – 80% expect it to have a negative effect on their business.
  • Regulation and legislation – 80% expect it to have a negative effect on their business.

Factors influencing confidence to invest over the next three years include:

  • A government strategy to ensure domestic food isn’t undercut by imported food produced to a lower standard – 88% said this would influence confidence to invest.
  • An increase in output prices i.e. what you receive for your produce – 86% said this would influence confidence to invest.
  • Levels of input price inflation e.g. fuel, fertiliser costs – 77% said this would influence confidence to invest.