‘Proactive’ East Anglian farmers embracing change as Brexit approaches, survey finds

Will Hargreaves, of Savills Ipswich Picture: RICHARD MARSHAM

Will Hargreaves, of Savills Ipswich Picture: RICHARD MARSHAM - Credit: Archant

East Anglian farmers are embracing change as they face up to the challenges of Brexit, a survey suggests.

Land agents Savills carried out polls of agricultural professionals and advisers at a series of autumn seminars which it hosted across Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire in November.

They suggested that farmer and landowners in the East of England are adopting new technology and taking steps to develop new markets in a bid to futureproof their business ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU.

The events, which included regional bankers, solicitors and accountants advising rural businesses, found 69% of their clients were working at developing new markets and 71% were exploring the use of agri-tech.

Will Hargreaves of Savills Ipswich said: “Encouragingly, the current political landscape and the resulting legislative changes are being seen by some as an opportunity rather than a threat. Of course there’s uncertainty – no one knows for sure what will happen over the coming months. But it appears from what we’ve been told that many farmers in the East of England are attempting to mitigate that uncertainty by being proactive, listening to new ideas and embracing innovation.

“The pace of change in our sector is a lot faster now, farmers and landowners will need to adapt or risk being left behind.”

The seminars included a review of the local land market along with an update on the Agriculture Bill and Environment Act.

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Henry Barringer of Savills Norwich predicted it would be the farm business that evolves into a consumer-focused, environmentally friendly brand, differentiating itself in the marketplace, that would thrive.

“Dynamism and diversification will be at the very heart of any fruitful enterprise,” he said. “The successful farm will have adopted the most efficient and productive technologies and farming systems, taking full advantage of the government’s expressed willingness to support funding for technology. Data will be harvested and analysed to inform decision making. Perhaps sensors will be deployed in every field? Freeing up time spent driving around to check whether conditions are too wet, dry or windy to carry out tasks such as spraying.

“Collaboration will also be a key component of success, with farms working together for mutual benefit, be it over machinery, ideas, input purchasing, marketing or, importantly, labour. Doing something because that’s how it has always been will no longer be the answer.”