Information for parents and safeguarding advice
Adapt to survive: advice for uplands farmers in new podcast

Adapt to survive: advice for uplands farmers in new podcast

The challenges posed by climate change and evolving agricultural policies demand flexibility and adaptability from uplands farmers, warn industry experts.

The advice is shared in The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs’ (NFYFC) new podcast, which is supported by Defra, and highlights the opportunities available for young farmers.

The podcast is hosted by rural affairs podcaster Ben Eagle who interviews a guest panel comprising uplands farmer Nic Renison, Head of Agriculture at Virgin Money Brian Richardson, Professor of Sustainability at Rothamsted Research Simon Wilcock, and Land and Estates Director at the National Trust Giles Hunt.

The panel discuss the challenges for uplands farmers now and in the future, as well as offer practical suggestions for new entrants.

Professor Wilcock admits uplands farming is not an easy journey and being flexible was key.

“Be flexible and adaptable because you don't know what challenges are coming around the corner and you don't know what opportunities are going to be there either. Be open minded and just sort of roll with the punches when they come and grab the opportunities when they come as well,” he advises.

The panel’s advice for young farmers includes:

  • Work more collaboratively with other farms to reduce costs (eg sharing machinery with neighbouring farms).
  • Have a detailed business plan and regularly review it.
  • Know and understand your production costs – understand your profit and loss.
  • Visit other farms, be inquisitive and embrace situations that are different to yours.
  • Look ahead to the future, prioritise biodiversity conservation and increase tree planting efforts.

Writing a business plan and understanding production costs are pinpointed as essential for future success in farming – especially with the National Trust.

Hunt says he was still concerned by the number of farmers who were unable to tell him their production costs, consequently remaining unaware of the profitability of their operations.

He adds that having a business plan is “a fundamental plank” of National Trust policy for choosing farm tenants.

“We would ask people to complete a pretty detailed business plan, I suspect not dissimilar to a plan that they might be producing when they're looking to borrow money from banks. But we're wanting to see that they can deliver against their own objectives, as well as ours,” says Hunt who also advocates regularly returning to the plan to see what has changed over time and why.

Online guide

NFYFC has produced an online guide to accompany the podcast, which includes more information from the panel and links to further resources. Writing in the guide, Virgin Money’s Head of Agriculture Brian Richardson underlines the importance of having a plan.

“What is becoming ever more clearly important is that every farm business must have a plan to deal with the future, to understand where they are going and what their goals should be in the short and medium term,” writes Richardson. “Farmers must also understand the language around Carbon and Net Zero, and the vital role farming will be expected to play in a low carbon economy.”

Despite the increase in extreme weather events and the complexities of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), panellist and uplands farmer Nic Renison is optimistic about the future.

“As farmers in the uplands, we've got lots of opportunity and we've got to release our mindset to allow those opportunities to happen,” says Renison who manages a regenerative farm in Cumbria on the edge of the Pennines with her partner Paul.

Be resilient

The couple have 360 acres with 90 Aberdeen Angus cows, 600 laying hens, a handful of pigs, and a woodland pasture agreement stewardship.

“It's being resilient. We’ve got cattle, which are a big chunk of our business. They're 100% grass fed, because that system allows us to make more money out of them. They're outside for a long time, so we don't have the housing costs and machinery costs and the chickens work well with them.”

Renison urges young farmers to consider planting trees for the long-term benefits. “If I’d have been here [at the farm] when I was 20, I could really have made a big impact because we've had a generation of no tree planting really in agriculture,” she says.

The panel discuss how fearing change can hold some farmers back from adapting to new methods or from working with others. Hunt highlights the example of sharing machinery with neighbouring farms to save on costs.

“I hope younger generations coming in will be more collaborative because I think the benefits will be significant if they are,” says Hunt.

Listen to the podcast