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Connection and camaraderie key for farming post Covid-19

28 July 2020

Connection and camaraderie key for farming post Covid-19

Increased local sourcing post Covid-19 was the hope of over 70 attendees who attended the webinar ‘The Road Ahead: What next for global young farmers?’ held on July 10.

The webinar, which was hosted by the Rural Youth Project in partnership with the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ), National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) and Eat Farm Now, featured six young farmers from across the world who came together to discuss and debate ‘what next’ for farming and food post-Covid.

The panel, which was organised and chaired by Jane Craigie from Jane Craigie Marketing, included representatives from Argentina, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Scotland and Sweden.

With topics spanning from the vulnerabilities of global food supply chains and agricultural and horticultural labour to the increased concern of young people leaving farming and rural places, each young farmer informed attendees on the current challenges and opportunities they face.

Jane Craigie highlighted the need for interpersonal connection during this uncertain time as a reason for convening the webinar.

“I’ve pulled together this panel of farmers and agriculturalists from across the world at a time where there really is opportunity for real change to the farming and food supply sectors following the global pandemic.

“I thought it would be valuable to hear from some young, influential international agriculturalists about what they think might happen next and what the opportunities are for food and farming post Covid-19.”

The webinar was recorded and can be found on the Rural Youth Project’s website here.

What the panellists had to say:

Sweden: Simon Wancke is Vice-President of CEJA, the European Council of Young Farmers and currently works as an estate manager on a farm in Sweden with arable crops, beef and dairy cattle and sheep.

Simon manages an estate one hour south of Stockholm and noted that the current pandemic provided an opportunity to bring society closer to agricultural production.

“Our positives during this is we haven’t really had a lockdown compared to many other countries, but a lot of companies and restaurants have had to close and those who have lost their job have volunteered and taken work on farms and are now exposed to what we do. This is so important because currently only 2% of people in Sweden work in the agricultural sector.”

Simon's key points:

  • Lack of skilled labour affecting young Swedish farmers who typically produce labour intensive specialised crops which rely on support from other European countries for seasonal work.
  • Sweden is only 50% self-sufficient and there is a lack of agricultural awareness not only amongst politicians but also wider society.
  • Due to the less restrictive lockdown, there has been no issues with supply chains neither to nor from the farm.

Australia: Emma Ayliffe is Chair of the Young Farming Champions Programme in Australia and is director, consultant and researcher with Summit Ag, an agricultural consulting business based in the Riverina and Central West regions of NSW.

Emma Ayliffe lives in Western NSW farms 1700 acres where they grow winter crops including wheat, barley, oats, canola and lupins.

“We used Covid as an opportunity to try and take a step back to take a step forward.”

Emma's key points:

  • With Covid-19, Australia went into level 3 restrictions and not allowed to travel 50km outside their hometowns and with a client radius of 500km, this made running her consulting business difficult.
  • Emma and her business partner have used this opportunity to create a communication app called Yacker to connect farmers on a meaningful platform.
  • Covid has created an opportunity to highlight ‘homegrown’ and as a net exporter, Australia is able to produce approximately 95% of what they eat on home soil.
  • Opportunity for more metropolitan people to understand seasonality and greater awareness of what Australia is able to produce.
  • Opportunity as Australia shifts away from fossil fuels for agriculture to move up in terms of supporting Australia’s wider economy.

Argentina: Pedro Vigneau, a fifth-generation farmer from Bolivar in central Argentina, a passionate no-till farmer who grows fodder crops, grains and GM soya and keeps beef cattle, using technology to protect the environment.

Pedro Vigneau from Argentina grows GM soya and is a passionate advocate for no-till farming and use of technology to improve the environment.

“You can not stop biology and this really should change the perception of farming as during the pandemic water in our rivers became clearer, our air became clearer, but farming did not stop and we need to highlight this to the public.”

Pedro's key points:

  • We need to go back to basics and go back to science because anti-science movements are detrimental to farmers.
  • Difficulty currently operating with a government which is not pro-agriculture that increased agricultural export taxes.
  • Must focus on farming system. Argentina has a systemic approach to farming with 93% of the 33 million hectares of the most important crops in Argentina operate under ‘no till’.

Canada: Stephanie Maynard, Past-President and Treasurer of the International Agritourism Association, and Vice-President of Expo Ormstown.

Stephanie Maynard farms 250 acres of fruit and vegetables with 100% sold directly to consumers or via ‘pick your own’. In the ten years since Stephanie and her husband took over the family farm, they have increased revenue by over 400% and welcome 100,000 visitors annually.

“The entire meat processing system came to a crashing halt and the major shift will be looking at how do we support those smaller processors which, as farmers, we have wanted for a long time.”

Stephanie’s key points:

  • Timing of Covid-19 meant they were going into planting season and the availability of migrant labour, predominantly from Guatemala and Mexico, was exceedingly difficult to find, but farmers were able to adapt and make decisions knowing that there was a labour shortage and therefore could change what they were planting.
  • Regulations in meat processing – slaughterhouses and butchers – has become so strict and cumbersome that the smaller enterprises were unable to survive and have all shut down. Processing is now quite centralised and owned by large companies. The air that is circulated for refrigeration within those buildings resulted in entire staff teams contracting the virus with hundreds of cases within a single company.
  • On-farm they have still been able to receive customers and sales are 2.5 times larger than last year with people wanting to go direct and support local.

Scotland: Colin Ferguson is a dairy farmer on the board of NFU Scotland who alongside his family, own and run two farms and are farmer-owners of ARLA.

Colin Ferguson and his family milk 450 Friesian cows over two units in South West Scotland and they are focussed on reducing cost and driving output.

“To survive and thrive we must be market-driven. We need to listen to consumers and produce what the market wants and needs, which is not what we have always done.”

Colin's key points:

  • There are three parts to the supply chain and we should always start with the consumer, as that is ultimately who we are suppling, but we’re prone to overlooking them.
  • The consumer is becoming more informed than ever, questioning production and values.
  • On climate change and animal welfare and we need to be above scrutiny as everyone has a phone.
  • Farmers need to become better at telling their story – something the anti-farming movement is doing better.
  • A recent report by Wicks UK Consumer Group showed that consumers in the lowest social-economic class are the most against the lowering of food standards.
  • UK food market is controlled by the ‘Big Six’ who are all very publicly supportive of UK agriculture, but when it comes to paying a fair price, they don’t manage to do that.
  • 82% of profit across farm businesses in Scotland comes from support payments, which Colin believes is holding them back.
  • Leaving the European Union on 31st of December 2020. A big change that might provide an opportunity for young people.
  • Need to find ways for more young people to access land to both rent and buy.
  • Need to upskill people on the land to increase efficiency.

South Africa: Breyton Milford is the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society Operations Manager, National Agricultural Youth Society Chairman & Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth Trustee.

Brayton Milford works in marketing and communications for the Cape of Good Hope society and is also a part-time sheep and beef farmer.

“We need to make agriculture ‘sexy’ to attract young people but policymakers need to provide incentive and more training facilities as well.”

Breyton's key points:

  • Opportunities to connect farmer and consumer has been hit very hard with no agricultural shows or events.
  • Farmers in South Africa have played a big role in supporting poorer communities during Covid-19.
  • Land reform debates and challenges have been occurring but there are more positives in agriculture than negatives.
  • Farmers need to adapt to the consumer’s needs and Covid has highlighted this.