UK: Farmer confidence is up, but red tape tops list of concerns, survey finds

Farmers are feeling more upbeat, an NFU survey has found

Farmers are feeling more upbeat, an NFU survey has found - Credit:

Red tape, the high cost of raw materials and the impact of planned changes to agricultural subsidies top the list of farmers’ concerns for 2014, research has found.

But the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) annual confidence survey revealed that farmer confidence is up on last year when the sector was feeling the effects of a miserable growing season due to poor weather conditions.

In all, 74% of farmers thought regulation and legislation was likely to have a negative impact on their businesses, with input prices and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform at 68% and 50% respectively.

NFU chief economist Phil Bicknell said: “Farmers are feeling more positive about the future after the horrendous conditions of 2012. However, looking down the track, farmers can see that there are clear issues that will harm their productivity and impact on their business. “

Farmers’ concerns about red tape was “a clear message” that the Government must do all it can to ease regulatory pressure, he said.

“A lot of frustration remains in this area with farmers reporting little perceptible difference of burden on the ground, despite initiatives like Red Tape Challenge and the Farming Regulation Task Force. For these initiatives to be credible, we need to start seeing positive outcomes and farmers benefiting from the changes.”

In the European Union, policies including restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide, could have a “significant impact” on arable farmers in the coming years, the NFU warned.

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“Input costs have consistently featured second on the list over recent years as Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) figures show that farming’s total cost base has gone up by 21% since 2010. Fertilizers and feed are up by 22% and 44% respectively, with added volatility also creating challenges.,” said Mr Bicknell. CAP reform this year became one of the top three factors likely to have a negative impact on farm businesses.

“Budget cuts, the uncertainty surrounding new agri-environment schemes and the commercial impact of the new mandatory ‘greening’ rules have already negatively influenced farmers’ perception of the new legal framework more than a year ahead of its implementation,” Mr Bicknell added.

“Confidence is critical because it influences investment and production intentions. Overall, it seems that the improved weather conditions had a positive impact on short-term confidence. This is clearly good news, but we need to be looking to the long term if we’re going to meet the food production challenges that lie ahead. If we want our farms to compete in an increasingly global market place and make the most of emerging export opportunities, we need government action that addresses uncertainty, incentivises consistent investment patterns and produces action rather than rhetoric when it comes to reducing red tape.”