East of England: building financial resilience in the agriculture sector
As part of The Big Conversation, we ran a series of virtual events to explore the best road to recovery for regions across the UK.
On 22 October 2020, stakeholders from the East of England gathered as part of Lloyds Banking Group’s Big Conversation to discuss the challenges, opportunities and critical areas of support needed to build financial resilience, safeguard mental wellbeing and ensure long-term growth within the agriculture sector in the East of England.
The key issues discussed were:
- Uncertainty over post-Brexit trade, loss of subsidies and rising machinery costs are significant threats to the resilience of the industry.
- Encouraging greater cross-sector collaboration and knowledge-sharing can help business adapt and diversify.
- Enhanced and accessible training and support services can help address the sector’s long-standing mental health epidemic and lack of confidence.
- Transitioning to sustainable farming can boost long-term productivity.
- Increasing access to good food to support the levelling up agenda represents a long-term growth opportunity.
Matt Hubbard, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for the East of England
Ben Makowiecki, Lloyds Banking Group, Area Director, Agriculture - East of England
Gary Ford, National Farmers’ Union, Regional Director for East Anglia
Stuart Roberts, National Farmers’ Union, Deputy President
George Freeman MP, Mid Norfolk
Chris Hill, Archant, Agricultural, Food and Farming Editor
Melinda Raker, The YANA Project, Patron
Alan Nichols, Money and Pensions Service, Regional Manager - East of England
Chris Wilford, Confederation of British Industry, Head of Financial Services Policy
Peter Glancy, Lloyds Banking Group, Head of Policy, Pensions & Investments
Watch the event highlights
Challenges and opportunities
Uncertainty about government policy and recruitment fears are undermining confidence.
- The sector has a lack of clarity on its future direction due to concerns about government policy, future trading, the loss of subsidies, rising machinery costs and recruitment challenges.
- Encouraging effective skills migration can revive the labour force and address the challenge of recruiting seasonal workers.
Mental health is a serious issue endemic to the industry and needs urgent action.
- A lack of confidence among farmers and financial struggles are exacerbating existing mental health issues. The loneliness of work and societal stigma compound this.
Increasing access to good food to support the levelling up agenda represents a long-term growth opportunity.
- Ensuring everybody has access to quality food is a way for the government to support the levelling up of society and the agriculture sector would play a critical role in delivering this.
"The scale of change we are facing is challenging. It’s a 1947 moment. It’s a huge risk for the industry and is deeply worrying, we are seeing a lot of anxiety."
George Freeman MP
Solutions to build financial resilience
Encourage enhanced cross-sector collaboration and knowledge-sharing to help businesses obtain guidance on how to adapt and diversify.
- Bringing together workers from across the agriculture sector through regular forums can lead to the creation of frameworks for best practice and help businesses make sense of government policy (agriculture bill, Environmental Land Management scheme criteria).
- Examples of initiatives include networking events and regional centres for innovation.
"If your confidence drops, your mental health drops. It takes courage to do something different. Farmers need support and help to give them ideas."
Melinda Raker, YANA
Sustainable farming is a way to build resilience in the sector.
- Investments in agritech such as improving access to water systems and enhancing soil health can increase sustainability and improve long-term productivity.
Greater mental health support and training is needed.
- Mental health training in agriculture colleges, and greater access to support centres for agriculture sector workers are ways to tackle the long-standing mental health challenge.