Blog: Why the information game is key for our farmers

Tuesday, 23 April 2024

It’s been said that data isn’t useful until it becomes information. This is something that epitomises one of our key roles − providing evidence-based information to our levy payers to ensure they can make informed decisions for their individual businesses.

With this very much in mind, I was delighted to be invited to share a platform with the Farming Minister, the Rt Hon Sir Mark Spencer, at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum. The session was the ideal opportunity to outline the breadth of our expertise and views on the next steps for UK agricultural policy.

As I outlined at the session, we’re all aware agricultural policy has never been so important in the UK. The challenges the sector has faced and is currently facing include the 3 Cs – Covid, Climate and Conflict, all driving price and supply volatility in the 5 Fs, food, fodder, finance, fertiliser and fuel.

Ensuring our climate and biodiversity targets are met, while at the same time ensuring food security in a time of increasing global conflict, is a complex and challenging task. Protecting our environment, ensuring our land remains productive, maintaining food security for the entire population, as well as maintaining rural livelihoods for our farmers and rural population, are all in the mix – it’s a delicate balancing act in the current climate.

Agricultural policy should not be presented as an either/or  food vs environment  that is a red herring. Both provision of food and protection of our environment are critical for our survival, both now and in the future.

With long production cycles, farmers need some degree of continuity of policy in order to build confidence, to plan effectively and to invest in their businesses. Central to this is high-quality data that is timely, high frequency and able to be processed to meaningful information. This is where we have a key role to play, illustrated by our analysis and modelling work. Our focus to date has been on agricultural policy in England, analysing many aspect of it but with a particular focus on SFI, being the policy probably of most importance to the majority of our levy payers.

Our analysis showed that no single action in the SFI or CS is going to be enough to mitigate the loss of Direct Payments, but the right combination of actions could go a long way to make up some of the shortfall. It has shown that farmers will need to look beyond SFI and towards other sources of funding to mitigate the loss of direct payments. I visualise it as a three-pronged approach: farmers will need to combine the Government schemes available, private finance such as carbon markets and BNG, and to address their own financial performance to secure their businesses going forward.

It was a pleasure to share some of this work with industry stakeholders at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum. What we now need is robust monitoring, validation and reporting to support policy development going forward. Data and analysis are key because the better we are at measuring, monitoring and making sense of data, the better we get. We have a key role to play in this respect. We will continue to pursue our evidence-based approach to convert data into key information for our levy payers, to help them make business decisions in the evolving agricultural policy landscape.

Read our SFI analysis

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Sarah Baker

Head of Economics - Analysis

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