What will post-subsidy farming look like in 2030?

March is a month all about opportunities and I always have an extensive list of jobs that have to be done by the end of it.
The list is purely arable and when we are faced with little challenges within our pig unit, I often think how pleased I am that we don’t have weather to contend with in quite the same way.

In one of the off-farm activities I take part in, we have been looking at what UK farming might look like in 2030. We started by looking at the changes we have seen over the last 50 or so years – my father used to say we would never see as much change in a generation as he did from his days as a boy ploughing with horses.
Nevertheless, potentially there is much change to come with the almost certain end to direct subsidies post-2020.
It is difficult to foretell what the change will look like but what is certain is that we won’t see vast swathes of East Anglia suddenly covered in grass and dairy cows because our climate simply won’t allow it.

It will probably take its toll on arable farmers and those unable to be flexible. I have a joke with a fellow livestock farmer about how maybe our time is yet to come… I say ‘joke’, but actually I am quite serious because, as unsupported sectors, many livestock enterprises have had to live without direct subsidy for a long time. Those attached to an arable enterprise have a diversified and flexible business already on which to build.

It is difficult to foretell what the change will look like but what is certain is that we won’t see vast swathes of East Anglia suddenly covered in grass and dairy cows because our climate simply won’t allow it.

The deal has to be that we become unsupported, but are allowed to do what is profitable. If that means the countryside looks different, then so be it.
Realistically, arable farmers will still have to stick to a rotation but we may have to look at alternative crops and not cropping some parts at all. For those with livestock, there may well be opportunities.

I spoke to the students of our local agricultural college recently and showed some of them round our pig unit. Mostly, they would rather chew their own toes off than have anything to do with pigs. They probably think I am a stuck record. But they simply don’t seem to appreciate either the importance of livestock to arable farmers in terms of grain consumption or the fact that they are going to need a more flexible approach to farming in the future, and part of that might well be livestock.

These students are going to be at the forefront of the move away from direct subsidy and many of them have not even considered it to be a challenge.
I have come to realise that the best I can do is equip myself as well as I can for change and always look for the opportunities.
So while a wet week in March is frustrating, it is an opportunity to wash the already applied nitrogen into the ground and hope it dries out again next week.

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