Period of monumental change
NICRE Co-director Janet Dwyer, Professor of Rural Policy at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), one of NICRE’s founding university partners, said: “This is a period of monumental change for farmers and while our findings showed that farms fared better than rural businesses in respect of the negative impacts of Covid-19, this doesn’t mean that they are better placed to cope with ongoing and future challenges for the rural economy.
“Careful medium-term planning, and building in the headroom to innovate, remain essential tactics for farms’ survival just as much as for other rural businesses, in these challenging times.
“Our evidence that farms are less likely than other rural businesses to engage in formal business planning and seek advice highlights a potential future risk, as farms position themselves to cope with the ongoing transition process and slow roll-out of the new schemes.
“In turn, Government should recognise its key challenge – underlined by the overwhelming concern with bureaucracy revealed in our survey – to deliver its new policies in ways that are truly accessible and will enable all farms to deliver a high-quality environment alongside excellence in food production, energy generation and other key services.”
Around a half of the 529 farms surveyed reported that their turnover stayed the same in the previous 12 months, compared to around a quarter of other rural businesses. Nearly three-quarters of farms reported that they generated a profit or surplus, compared to 66% of rural firms. Almost four out of 10 farms reported no impact of the pandemic, compared to just one in 10 rural businesses.
NICRE’s latest in a series of State of Rural Enterprise Reports also found that farms were much less likely to use Government’s Covid support measures than other rural businesses, with just over half (54%) of farms accessing it, compared to 70% of rural businesses.
The evidence shows that farms were more likely instead to draw on family support to reduce their pandemic-related costs, typically family members working longer hours, or family money being used to support the business.