Tue 16 Aug 2022
Oli Arnold is a graduate surveyor in Shouler & Son’s rural services team. He joined the practice in 2021 post-harvest and on graduating from Harper Adams University with an honours degree in Rural Property Management.
With practical experience on his family’s livestock farm and a dissertation which posed the question “Does succession planning aid or hinder the progression of the family farming business?”, he is ably qualified to share his views here about the questions being asked by, and of, a new generation of farmers.
Succession planning became the subject of my degree dissertation because, throughout my time at Harper Adams, it was a recurring topic in lectures, reading material and online forums.
It is an issue for many families because farming is, typically, a lifestyle many are born to as opposed to an active choice of occupation.
However, through opportunities for education, international communication and travel and more leisure time, it seems the family farm is becoming less a certain path for many of my generation.
Additional aspects beyond hands-on farming - land prices, tax liabilities and wholesale legislative and policy changes -are coming to mean that maintaining a viable farm is a very difficult, costly and time-consuming process.
Setting professional contacts aside, I retain friendships with peers who are involved in farming. From professional and personal participation and observation, farming is an industry that is no longer insular and self-referencing in the way it might once have been.
Having to call on the services and acumen of an increasingly broad range of business and technical professionals is something newer farming generations aren’t afraid to do.
They are compelled to do it in order to run a successful operation.
Being ‘involved’ in farming can take many forms including through laboratory-based soil sampling, hauling livestock or creating new materials and resources to be used on the farm.
Such opportunities open up the farming sector to individuals from a range of industry sectors and skills disciplines.
Technological advancement and development are key to modernising farming.
Time freed up by deploying the range of farming technologies affords the opportunity to give time elsewhere in the pursuit of a profitable operation.
Albeit, there will always be a more hands-on requirement when a livestock farmer than an arable equivalent.
It’s my belief that it will be through technology that the environmental expectations for farming in the future can be reconciled - however, counter-intuitive that sounds at face value.
For instance, smart sprays that assess and regulate herbicide application based on the size of any one weed serve a dual use: the reduction in input costs for the farm operator and the improvement of environmental outcomes.
When technology is optimised in the right setting, it makes for greater outputs with lower inputs.
As I see it, getting the balance right between AI/robotics and the qualitative reward and enjoyment of the farming life is going to see a new definition of skilled farm workers living a very new kind of life down on the farm.
Current generations of farmers are facing up to vast change in a very squeezed timeframe during this decade.
It seems to me that there are questions being asked of farming and farmers now - and in the coming few years - that haven’t been asked before.
My generation will be farming a lot more regeneratively and environmentally.
This is due to a sea change in grant incentives which is being matched by industry standards and requirements.
Overlaying this are external public and policy pressures which will continue to generate the need for unique selling points to ensure profitability of farm businesses.
In order to retain its young talent, I don’t believe that farming has to do much within itself.
However, I believe current and future farming generations know they have to continue to work to improve the portrayal of the sector by those in positions of influence and power who have no connection with or, indeed, no knowledge of the workings of a sector that results in food on our plates.