Farming productivity puzzle a serious challenge
Farmers are already making business decisions that will come to fruition after we leave the EU. But according to a new report, in a world outside Europe, our farmers are at a big disadvantage when it comes to competing in a global marketplace. They're just much less productive than farmers in other major economies.
Productivity is something economists like to try and measure. In this case as farmers try new ideas and invest in new technology then over time their productivity goes up. The difficulty is, even though it is rising, our productivity is pretty poor when compared with other countries.
This new study comes from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), based at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire.
You can read the entire report here, but the gist is while agricultural productivity is on an upward trend in the UK, it's easily outstripped by the much larger increases in France, USA, the Netherlands and Germany.
The productivity gap
So what's going on and why does it matter so much?
This productivity gap between us and other countries isn't new and it isn't just a farming thing. I've reported before on the same phenomenon in Midlands manufacturing. That said I was genuinely surprised to see our farmers face the same problem.
There's no single thing causing our productivity issue. But if you wanted to point at least two or three fingers, it comes down to a fragmented research effort that fails to filter ideas down to farmers, a lack of knowledge sharing between farmers themselves and thin to non-existent investment in staff training.
Improving productivity means updating farm machinery and expecting new purchases to do more than the previous piece of kit. Knowledge sharing means getting off farm and seeing how other farmers are doing things, sometimes even in other countries.
Just like in manufacturing, as our farmers head towards life outside the EU, poorer productivity will make it much harder for them to compete with other countries. And that's bad news.
But there's one further reason strong productivity is even more important when it comes to farming.
If we improve productivity, make farming more efficient, then it doesn't just save money and make us more competitive. It's also good news for our environment. Efficient farming is greener farming.
As I said at the start, farmers are already making decisions which will have an impact on their businesses after Brexit. In light of this new research it's clear a major focus will have to be improving productivity. Because if you can't compete on the world stage then life looks pretty gloomy.