Andrew McCornick: Farmers and crofters should assess their businesses

Andrew McCornick

While there may appear to be a whole lot going on in the world of politics, for NFU Scotland, there is also a whole lot not happening in the world of politics.

We are heading into 2018 and seeing little progress since Article 50 was triggered in March and the clock is ticking.

The ‘big picture’ is where we, as NFU Scotland, spend a lot of time and effort, influencing the decision makers and politicians alongside listening to our farming and crofting members and directing these views back into the debate.

The union’s political engagement has never been stronger.

However, what is happening on our farms and crofts is where we have most immediate control.

It is right that we regularly put our own house in order, to the extent of questioning whether or not our current business choices are correct.

There may or may not be a storm coming for Scottish farming but, at an individual business level, we must use the current uncertainty as a wake-up call.

Look at the resources we have – whether that be land, buildings, stock, machinery, labour, finance – and then ask what is the best use of these assets?

The real big question must be what do you want for the future? What is the ambition for yourself, your family and how do you make the most of potentially the biggest change in agriculture?

As a nation, we are leaving Europe and the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) after 44 years of relative stability and we must make sure that what replaces it presents an opportunity for all farms and crofts to achieve their ambition.

Here is my simplistic view for any business looking forward.

Profitable – we need to make money to live and allow us to reinvest, or we will be simply standing still and, in business terms, that means we are actually going backwards.

Sustainable – every farmer and crofter I have met wants to leave their holding in a better place than when they started, regardless of tenure. Remember, we are only custodians of the land for a fraction of time in relation to how long it has been there and will be there in the future

Resilient – the late summer/autumn and early winter of 2017 certainly makes us want to look at how we cope with the challenges our businesses face due to the vagaries of Scottish weather. Do we need to be so reliant on inputs? Should or can we make our business more self-sufficient? We certainly need to give greater consideration to the benefits brought by the partnerships we can strike with fellow farmers.

Whether it be contract rearing; away wintering for cattle and sheep, deals on providing organic matter for soils – we need to look more closely at anything that works to the benefit of both businesses.

Volatility – find measures that suit your business. Can we forward buy inputs to secure price and guarantee supply, tie in payments to match cashflow, are these options? This reflects the need for support payments to be delivered timeously. Can we forward sell some of our produce to finance some of our forward buying?

Enjoyable – the real measure of whether you are in the right career is when you are doing something you really want to do, and are paid for doing it. I do not prescribe to the “it’s a way of life” line of thinking. We must be business-like and have pride in what we do, by supplying top quality produce that the market wants.

I believe in the future of agriculture. The Scottish food and drink sector has ambitions to double its output by 2030. We are the bedrock of this as producers. There will also be a growing demand for food from an ever-growing population.

We need to be in a solid place at home and then, my commitment to you as president of NFU Scotland, is an absolute commitment to influence the decision-makers and secure the long-term future of farming and crofting.