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Farmers’ ‘thirst for knowledge’ on achieving robust and profitable businesses 

Angus Chalmers

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In this month’s instalment of The Inside Track, I’m going to be talking about the growing thirst for knowledge among farmers around the decisions they need to take on farm to ensure their resilience and profitability.  

At Lamma and Dairy Tech, as well as every other farming event I’ve been to so far this year, the attendance has been extraordinary, which I think reflects the fact that the farming industry is facing an enormous transition and pressures from many different directions. Farmers want the knowledge on the best products to use and the best decisions to make for their businesses, and there is a huge opportunity for supply chain businesses in the sector to fill the void and meet that need.  

Encouraging responsibility 

This has certainly been reflected in the conversations we’ve been having with our clients. That it’s about the education and information around why things are needed rather than saying to farmers ‘here’s the product, go ahead and buy it because we know you want it.’ There’s a responsibility on everyone in the supply chain to help farm businesses grow and thrive within the changing environment in which we find ourselves.  

The top-of-mind issues for farmers  

The findings of the Readership Survey we carried out in the second half of last year helped us capture data on not only how farmers accessed information but also on the key issues that were front of mind. Predictably, the weather came high on the list, as did costs, prices, bureaucracy, and the shortages and geopolitics which caused shocks in the supply chain.  

None of these are surprising because they are things that farmers directly experience. They are on the receiving end of the weather and rising costs, they are told the price they are going to receive for their product, and which forms they need to fill in to remain on assurance schemes or to access funding. Farmers tend to react to these things and feel that they can’t influence any of them.  

Helping farmers see the way forward  

Take the weather, for example. Farmers have had to deal with a horribly wet end to summer 2023 as well as a wetter than average autumn, winter and now early spring. A contributing factor is undoubtedly climate change. But do farmers think about climate change, or do they think about the weather?  

I tend to believe they think about the weather as that is what they are having to deal with. Looking out at waterlogged fields, makes it difficult to think about longer-term issues. Yet, an awful lot of what’s happening in the headlines and within the policy environment is around net zero and keeping the climate within boundaries that will limit long term impact. This ultimately influences costs and prices because of the actions which need to be implemented in response to climate change, such as a move away from fossil fuels, new methodologies of reducing methane from cattle, and new methods of crop production that reduce the release of carbon from soils.  

These things are all interlinked, and farmers have always known this. A decision made in one area is going to influence what happens in another. It’s not just carbon, it’s biodiversity and nature, water quality and air quality. The way humanity has been consuming and emitting since the industrial revolution is coming home to roost, and farming is one of the first sectors to be significantly impacted – and it’s hard for individual farmers to know what to do.  

Supporting farmers to make the right decisions  

As producers of food, farmers are a fundamental pillar of society, and all in the food supply system should take their share of responsibility in supporting farmers to adapt to the huge transformation required. It’s about ensuring that they can continue to produce the food that we need in a responsible way that delivers profitability and allows them to reinvest in that continuous process of transitioning from where we are now to where we need to get to.  

At the moment, everything feels up in the air and it can be tough for farmers to see a clear path moving forward. Supply chains are having to change, farming is having to change, and consumers are having to change their habits. The only way to make it work is to collaborate through knowledge and education, and providing evidence to ensure that the decisions farmers are taking gives them a fighting chance of delivering the profitability they need and the robust, nature-friendly food production society desires.  



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