06 January 2014

Leading agricultural lawyers at Burges Salmon believe that a new report entitled 'Opportunity Agriculture – the next decade towards a sustainably competitive industry' presents some hard-hitting but positive messages for UK farming to address in light of the myriad changes and opportunities it faces over the next 10 years.

'Opportunity is not always a comfortable companion and often involves embracing change. It is pleasing to note that agriculture is now central to the government’s industrial strategy. This partnership between government and industry shares the vision for the UK as a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability. We are proud to be associated with such a forward looking and positive paper and we hope this year’s report will play a part in turning this vision into a reality,' says William Neville, head of Food, Farming and Land at Burges Salmon.

The report was commissioned by the Oxford Faming Conference and is sponsored by UK leading law firm Burges Salmon, which has one of the county's foremost practices for the farming and rural land sector, multi-national agri-science company Syngenta and animal nutrition specialists Volac. Based on the theme of the 2014 conference, 'Opportunity Agriculture', which takes place from 6-8 January 2014, this year’s report focuses specifically on what needs to change in UK agriculture to make it sustainably competitive.

'The context to this important research is that our farming sector has far-reaching opportunities, but it needs to adapt to profit from them,' said Julian Gairdner, OFC 2014 Co-Chairman. 'Underwriting the whole report is the recommendation that farm businesses need to adopt an openness and willingness to embrace change.

'It is likely that more transformation will happen in the UK farming industry in the next 10 years than we have seen in the past 50, so the industry needs to be prepared to adopt new systems, structures and partner investors who understand agriculture. The report delivers some hard-hitting punches and – intentionally – it doesn't hold back in spelling out the progress needed.'

Produced by Bidwells on behalf of the Oxford Farming Conference, the report comprises thorough and in-depth research that seeks responses from farmers and the wider industry. The report’s findings have been reviewed and appraised by a group of high-profile industry experts. The contributors of the report were asked specifically to address three key areas including to:

  • identify the areas of structural and investment challenge which inhibit competitiveness or offer competitive advantage, and which discourage, or encourage, investment and new ideas into the sector
  • draw on global experience and evidence to point the way forward
  • make recommendations (however controversial) for what needs to happen.

The report's author, Ian Ashbridge from Bidwells, says that farmers will need to seek alternatives to the tried and tested, and warns that further decoupling of farm ownership from farm operation was inevitable.

'We are seeing investors from outside farming bringing in new sources of capital and creating opportunities for the most professional, well-equipped and entrepreneurial farmers as operators. These professional operators will challenge the accepted definition of ‘farmer’ as the industry and, to a degree, society understands it. Farming has so few operational structures for the combination of land, labour, capital and enterprise.

'One of the things this research has identified is that there is a need for new and innovative structures – models that align interests more effectively, particularly in light of some of the major changes in farming likely to be seen in the next decade.'

Kevin Kennedy, a partner in Burges Salmon's Food, Farming and Land team, commented: 'The farming industry is vital to the UK economy and is a sector that continues to change rapidly. As rural businesses diversify, opportunities develop, and the regulatory landscape shifts, our clients face increasingly complex challenges. Lawyers continue to play a key role in the sector, being heavily involved with the key regulatory and policy issues that most affect our clients.'

The findings and conclusions of the report were based on a series of in-depth interviews with over 100 farmers, 50 agricultural-industry experts and a peer review by a 10-strong expert panel.

A full copy of the 2014 Oxford Farming Conference report can be downloaded from the official conference website.

Burges Salmon is one of the county’s foremost law firms for the farming and rural land sector, and is publisher of the successful ‘The Pink Book: the Burges Salmon Guide for Landowners and Farmers’. A second edition, is due to be published at the end of January 2014.

Key contact

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy Partner

  • Agricultural Disputes
  • Trust and Probate Disputes
  • Estates and Land

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