Farming Talk with Louise Taylor

Industry Must Embrace More Techniques To Cut Emissions 

We’ve now seen the end of January and although I had hoped that 2019 might embrace a rather more leisurely pace, it seems intent on forging ahead at the break-neck speed with which 2018 departed.  The news, however, has changed little in the last few weeks with a daily focus on Brexit and the huge challenges faced by Government. My attention turns to Michael Grove’s Clean Air Strategy due to be published in the next couple of months. 

The UK produces 295,000 tonnes of ammonia each year and the legal limit, currently at 297,000 tonnes, is due to be reduced to 283,000 tonnes next year.  Defra reports that agriculture accounts for 88% of UK ammonia emissions and the new strategy will require farmers to invest in the infrastructure and equipment needed to reduce emissions.  CLA and NFU agree that ammonia is a serious problem but suggest that financial support would be needed for the farming industry to effect change.  Such changes might include a reduction in the amount of crude protein fed to livestock improved slurry and soil testing; more rigorous choice of fertiliser products and slurry application and ensuring good housekeeping and husbandry around the farm buildings.

Farming has always been, at least in part, a technical profession, but unlike so many others there is a choice.  Plenty of farmers are still using simple, tried and tested techniques and making a good living.  This has often been a conscious choice of farming method but I fear that the element of choice will soon be removed.  Farmers will have to either embrace a more technical approach or pay someone for technical advice.  Having worked as a ‘change agent’ in a number of different businesses, I know only too well that change can be a difficult subject. It all depends how to look at it.  If you view it as a mountain to be climbed then it can be extremely daunting, a bit like eating an elephant.  But if you see it as a continuous process then business strategy can become a series of mini-changes that are easier to swallow. 

Farming is unique due the inextricable link between the farming business and the family assets but that does not preclude it from needing to develop in order to face the challenges of the future.  There are a great many challenges to face this year but the wise farmer will focus on his core competency and look to outsource the skill and experience he lacks. I’m afraid that the days of ‘we’ve always done it this way’ are gone forever and whilst ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ has merit, that doesn’t prevent us from examining our working practices and focusing on building for the future.

Louise Taylor MA, MSc, Dip HRD is Managing Director of Taylor Millbrook Ltd and Partner in Barbers Rural Consultancy LLP. She is an RICS Accredited Mediator and specialises in Succession Planning and Change Management. Contact Louise on 01630 692500 or l.taylor@barbers-rural.co.uk