With the second half of the year now well underway, it’s fair to say that 2022 has been an unexpected roller coaster ride for many. The Russian invasion of Ukraine back in February has had long-reaching consequences, something that many countries worldwide, including the UK, continue to feel.
The fallout has created a unique situation for farmers here at home, who find themselves faced with two very contradictory yet equally valid options:
- Option 1: Scale up to take advantage of new opportunities being presented.
- Option 2: Scale back in the face of significant headwinds also present.
Taking either pathway raises several issues which farmers must consider for the overall health and wellbeing of their livestock and livelihoods.
Why are there opportunities for farmers to scale up?
Farmers with an eye on growing their business currently have many compelling reasons to do so.
Front and centre is the increasing demand for more homegrown products from British agriculture, which creates a bigger market for farmers to sell into. While increasing demand isn’t surprising given the growing population, a new government initiative nicknamed ‘Grow For Britain’ has formalised this need. Launched earlier this summer, the programme urges farmers to scale their output to solidify domestic food security and reduce reliance on international supply chains. Those eager to grow could use this opportunity to scale up their business.
One of the consequences of the war in Ukraine is the disruption to Britain’s imports from the ‘Breadbasket of Europe’. With ports blockaded and supply chains damaged, very few exports have left Ukraine since February, and those that have departed are earmarked for countries on the brink of famine.
In a standard year, Ukraine is Britain’s twelfth largest import partner, with £830 million of goods brought into the country annually. The disruption to harvesting and exporting means that products such as oils and grains (including oat, sunflower and corn) have been impacted, further escalating the need to increase output on farms around the country.
A perfect storm of the post-pandemic landscape, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, and the soaring cost of living have also raised concerns about food safety. Imports of meat, dairy and eggs from overseas have been flagged as a higher risk by the National Food Standards Agency. In contrast, British agricultural standards remain some of the highest in the world.
Why would farmers consider scaling down their business?
A second option many farmers are weighing up is the possibility of scaling back their business. For most, it’s a case of financial survival. While demand for more eggs, poultry, pork and other products exists, inescapable cost increases in almost every area necessary for the business of farming to take place means that even maintaining current production levels is sending farms into the red.
Figures released by the National Pig Association reveal that 80% of pig farmers could go out of business within the next 12 months due to soaring costs at the farm gate.
It’s a similar story for poultry, beef, and arable farmers, too. The 50% year-on-year increase that all farmers face has caused enormous financial pressure, and with the cost of feed, fuel and fertiliser continuing to rise monthly, there is no respite in sight.
Rapidly scaling up or down presents serious issues for farmers
Whether to increase or decrease productivity, choosing to scale rapidly is fraught with obstacles and potential dangers. Chief amongst any sudden change is the need to ensure the farm’s biosecurity remains at an optimal level, with the welfare of livestock a prime consideration.
Scaling too quickly to grow productivity rapidly can jeopardise farm businesses’ biosecurity. Therefore, thought must be given to best practice conceptual, structural, and procedural biosecurity before changes are made.
Failing to place housing a sufficient distance apart, overlooking drainage or ventilation, positioning sheds too close to roads or hampering optimal routes for the movement of people and animals around the farm can open the door to disease incursion.
Likewise, leaving housing empty, under-maintained due to lack of occupancy or without stringent cleansing and disinfection procedures can pose a significant threat to remaining livestock.
Navigating the scaling up or scaling back conundrum
Whether choosing to scale up or scale back, a comprehensive strategy is needed to reduce risk, maintain welfare standards, and protect against disease.
At Livetec, we fully understand both pathways’ appeal in a challenging yet dynamic period for British agriculture. We’re here to help farmers struggling with this choice with science-backed solutions, expert guidance, and strategic support.
Contact us now to find out more.