Farmers wear how many different hats?

Farmers wear as many, if not more, hypothetical hats as there are different kinds of actual hat! AF Communications Manager Sophie Britch examines the ‘head wear’ and headspace needed for the unique challenges presented by agriculture today.

 

A diverse bunch

There’s no such thing as ‘just a farmer’ anymore. A quick glance at our portfolio of AF Members shows just how diverse farming can be. There are arable and fresh produce growers and livestock keepers as you’d expect. But would you expect crocodiles listed as some of the livestock kept by one of our Members? What about a stunning highland castle retreat, powered by their own hydroelectricity and run by Members who’re not only caretakers of the surrounding countryside but also musicians and composers?

 

New methods, crops and markets

Then there’s AF Member James Bucher. Realising something had to change with his conventional farming system, he’s set about learning more about soil biology and has rekindled his passion for farming along the way. What he chooses, buys and uses on his farm is changing but he is one of those changing what and to who he sells. He is joining forces with new style businesses, such as Wildfarmed, interested to pay a premium for the grain he produces with different techniques.

 

Getting better by going back

For Jill Bathgate, a third-generation tenant farmer on land south of Edinburgh and an AF Member, the journey has been a genetic one. Since taking over the day to day running of the family farm, she’s used genetics to reduce her dairy cows’ yield. To improve her margins she explains she has been “on this genetic journey to build a cow more like the ones my grandfather had years ago!”

 

Riding the rhythms of change

Rapid changes in local and national climate mean our traditional ‘seasons’ seem to have shifted or, in some cases, disappeared altogether. Farmers are having to discover ways to adapt to those meteorological changes, potentially even radically altering their cropping plans.

Recent record wet weather left many UK farmers unable to plant the crops they intended. AHDB recently reported a 5% decrease in acreage of winter cereals planted in UK (105,000 hectares) and 20% reduction in oilseed rape (74,000 hectares). Those crops can’t all simply be sown later, when land is dry enough to work, so it’s been back to the drawing board to work out what else will grow and get in touch with us to source the seed to get going.

Alongside these quite quick switches in the landscape there are other business plans and investments, especially livestock, which must be made 18 months to 2 years in advance, and whatever the weather. Our AF turkey rearing farmers are placing parent stock now, which will be reared to maturity to lay the eggs which are grown for the tables of Christmas 2025!

 

Eyes on multiple forecasts

It’s not just the number of hats farmers wear that’s increased, so has the number of places they need to look for trends. As well as eyes on the ground, they need eyes on the news, plus eyes on – and far beyond – their horizon.

On smartphones and screens, farmers watch multiple weather apps, geopolitical news and influences and commodity market movements and predictions.

There’s research on consumer and food manufacturer trends to analyse to anticipate what buyers and consumers may want and be prepared to pay more for. There’s insights, such as AF produces, to help day-to-day and longer term decision-making to cut costs. From aggregating orders, managing waste better, making best use of data systems and never paying more than they need to for everyday business essentials including machinery parts and fuels.

Farmers wear many hats: whether for the season, the business reason or to scrutinise which way to turn and what to invest in. It’s the challenge – and still for many, the thrill – of farming today.

 

Britch, S. 2024. Farmers now have to wear many different hats. East Anglian Daily Times p.44. 3rd February.