Farmer confidence at an all-time low, bleak NFU survey shows

The relentless wet weather has played a significant part in the fall in farmer confidence
The relentless wet weather has played a significant part in the fall in farmer confidence

The confidence of farmers is at an all-time low and will lead to a decrease in food production, the NFU has warned following the release of a survey.

The union's annual 'farmer confidence survey' shows that short and mid-term confidence is at its lowest since records began in 2010.

Because of this lack of confidence, production intentions have also plummeted, with all farming sectors expecting to decrease production over the next year.

The relentless wet weather has played a big part, with 82% of respondents saying their farm businesses have suffered fairly negative (52%) or very negative impacts (30%).

Mixed farms, arable farms and dairy farms having taken the biggest hits, according to the survey, which was undertaken by nearly 800 farmers in November and December 2023.

Since then, farmers have been battling relentless heavy rain, with the UK suffering from four major winter storms since the start of 2024.

Were the survey undertaken again today, the results would be even worse, the NFU warned.

Farm business profitability has also fallen with 65% of farmer respondents saying their profits are declining or their business may not even survive.

The NFU said the government must recognise the 'extraordinary nature' of what has been the wettest 18 months since 1836, warning that many farms 'may be unable to survive'.

In its election manifesto, the union has provided some solutions to parties, which it said could work to reverse this breakdown in farmer confidence.

These include planning for and rewarding farmers fairly for their role in mitigating flood risk and committing to the proactive management of watercourses.

A smooth transition to new environmental schemes that are open to all farmers and growers, and ensure profitable long-term food-producing businesses, is also needed.

The NFU is also calling for an establishment of minimum standards to promote a fair and functioning supply chain, as well as core production standards that apply to agri-food imports.

NFU President Tom Bradshaw said the survey's results painted 'a really stark picture' following months of flooding. high production costs and low returns.

“Any business owner knows that without confidence and a steady cash flow, businesses will struggle to re-invest and remain viable," he added.

"We have already lost more than 7,000 agricultural businesses since 2019 – no one wants to see that increase, least of all our customers who really value the high quality, sustainable food British farmers produce.

"With climate change wreaking havoc on food systems across the world and geo-political tensions high, Britain cannot afford to lose its ability to feed itself."

A lot is hanging in the balance ahead of the general election. Political parties will be focusing on how to reverse the cost-of-living crisis, as food inflation is still high and families continue to struggle with food bills.

But the NFU said that supporting homegrown food production must be part of this, pointing to solutions that the current and future governments could adopt.

“The good news is that there are solutions," Mr Bradshaw continued, "From investment in our water management to developing core production standards for food imports.

"With their support we can do more to contribute towards our national interests – producing more sustainable, affordable food and renewable energy, driving economic growth, providing jobs, and delivering our national environmental ambitions.”