Testing the temperature of Devon’s agriculture industry

Posted on: 10 August 2016

As the UK Government works out what the nation’s future relationship with the European Union will look like, some Devon farmers are concerned that Brexit will lead to challenges for an industry already feeling the strain.

While some in the agricultural industry feel that leaving the EU will create opportunities,  others are concerned that breaking the ties could place yet further pressures on the industry with a potential loss of subsidises and uncertainty over new trade agreements.

And these on top of a list of challenges that farmers everywhere are facing, and which have prompted many businesses to diversify into other areas to supplement their incomes.

Devon County Council is now looking closely at the industry; its contribution to the Devon economy; the challenges its facing; and at the support the sector relies on.  It wants to see an industry that’s fit and flexible and able to grow.

And despite the challenges, continued growth in the value of the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector to the economy in Devon is expected.

Experts were predicting last year that the total gross value added (GVA) for the Devon industry – the measure of the value of goods and services produced – could rise from £271.2 million in 2015 to £375.7 million by 2025.

That’s a comparatively small contribution to Devon’s total GVA, just some two to three per cent, but its effects are significantly wider than that through supply chains supporting manufacturing, and tourism.

Economists estimate employment within the Devon industry at around 12,600 jobs, with many of those are self-employed.

And livestock is the county’s preferred form of agriculture, including dairy, beef and sheep, taking advantage of Devon’s comparatively high-yield grasslands.

But the industry has long faced challenges.  

Low earnings, high land prices and a shortage of let farmland is discouraging young people into the profession.  It has an aging workforce, and many of them are predicted to leave.  Economists, Cambridge Econometrics predict a reduction of 700 farming jobs in Devon by 2020 and a further 400 by 2025.

The costs of fertiliser and feed, although they fluctuate, are generally increasing; while for some sectors – dairy for example – prices in the shops for their products have been low.

For some dairy farms, milk prices are still below that required to offset increased costs of production and return a reasonable profit.

That’s a real problem for smaller farms, and with South West farm sizes some 70 per cent smaller than the English average, it’s a problem for Devon’s farmers.

Support for the industry

On the up side, Devon County Council provides a range of support to the industry, with its very successful 3,900 hectares farms estate designed to provide opportunities for new entrants to the sector.  And the Council provides various funding programmes and support schemes to help rural businesses.

The Council’s Place Scrutiny Committee has a Task Group looking at the health of the agriculture industry.  The Task Group also wants to identify ways in which the county council, partners and central government can help support, sustain, and develop the industry.

It’s drawing upon expert opinions from a variety of witnesses, from farmers to other landowners to food manufacturers and other professionals in the field.

Cllr Brian GreensladeCouncillor Brian Greenslade, Chairman of the Agriculture Task Group, said:

“As important as agriculture is to the pounds and pence of the Devon economy, it’s also an industry responsible for what makes Devon one of the most desirable counties in the UK in which to live and work.  Without a thriving agriculture industry, we would all be the poorer for it in many ways.

“Periodically we take the temperature of the industry, a health-check.  Devon County Council already supports the industry through a number of different ways, but we want to look again at the challenges that the sector is facing, at the support it might need and who’s best placed to provide that support.

“We’re inviting farmers and related businesses to let us know what their concerns for the future are, and what support they feel they need to sustain and develop the industry.”

To present your views to Task Group, please email scrutiny@devon.gov.uk.

The Task Group will compile a report that will go back to the Place Scrutiny Committee in the New Year with its findings and recommendations.

3 comments on “Testing the temperature of Devon’s agriculture industry

  1. Barbara Cowley says:

    Devon county Council itself is damaging the farming community. I agree this industry is already feeling the strain, especially for the smaller farmer. I have been to a consultation on the unnecessary re-route of the A30, Honiton to Devonshire Inn. There has been no mention of the impact on several small farmers that this is ruining, taking away their livelihood. How can this help local economy? Who will be supporting these farmers? I agree, improvements need to be made, the small scale improvements that were originally agreed should be reconsidered. Why are we even using taxpayers money to run yet another consultation.

  2. Deborah Ayre says:

    Housing in the countryside has become unaffordable for young people, particularly those who work on farms where incomes may be limited. A more flexible approach to granting planning permission for appropriate housing on farms would help this situation and encourage the next generation of Devon’s young farmers to stay in the county.

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