Farmer confidence at lowest in England and Wales since survey began, NFU says

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Farmers’ confidence has hit its lowest level in at least 14 years, a long-running survey by the biggest farming union in Britain has found, with extreme weather and the post-Brexit phasing-out of EU subsidies blamed for the drop.

The National Farmers’ Union warned there had been a “collapse of confidence” and that the outlook was at its lowest since the annual poll of its members in England and Wales began in 2010.

Most farms are expecting to reduce food production next year, with arable farming particularly badly hit.

Tom Bradshaw, the NFU’s president, pointed to extreme wet weather and the phasing-out of EU basic payment scheme (BPS) subsidies as key reasons for the downturn.

“Our concern today is that if members don’t have confidence, then we as a country can’t deliver food security,” said Bradshaw.

The annual survey of almost 800 farmers asks respondents to rate the prospects of their business, with the four responses all given weighted scores – very negative (-1), negative (-0.5), positive (0.5) and very positive (1). These are added up to give an overall confidence index score.

The results saw short-term confidence, covering the next 12 months, score –25, while mid-term confidence, covering the next three years, hit –22.

The previous low for short-term confidence was –18 in 2016, while for mid-term confidence, it was the –12 posted in 2018.

England’s wettest 18-month period since the Met Office began collecting data in 1836 has left farms across the country flooded, and many unable to plant crops.

The survey revealed that 82% had had their farms affected by the rain, with 30% saying they had experienced very negative impacts.

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Analysis by the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) last week forecast that crops could be down by nearly a fifth as a result of the wet weather, increasing the likelihood that the prices of bread, beer and biscuits will rise.

The NFU survey found that overall production intentions scored –14 over the next 12 months, the lowest since the survey began.

Arable farms appear to have suffered most, scoring -35 on the production index, while mixed farms scored -17, and poultry and eggs scored –7.

The BPS payments were supposed to be replaced by the government’s own sustainable farming incentive (SFI) subsidies but the rollout of these has been delayed.

Respondents to the survey identified this as one of the key issues shaping the year ahead, with 86% of farmers saying it would have a negative effect.

Bradshaw said: “This year we’re going to be down to 50% or less of our previous BPS payments, and this comes at a time where farmer borrowing is increasing, where the cost of servicing that debt is higher.

“And now we’ve had this incredible period of weather, which has meant that whichever sector of farming you’re in, your costs of production have increased and your outputs have decreased. It is the perfect storm of events.”


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