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Harvesting information to help farmers in post-Brexit Britain

Professor Paul Wilson of the Rural Business Research Unit explains how experts are helping to navigate a shifting landscape
Vision Environment Harvesting information to help farmers in post-Brexit Britain

When you consider that farmers look after 75% of the environment in the UK – as well as producing the majority of the country’s food needs – you can see how vital it is to protect their future. 

Whatever the twists and turns of the Brexit saga, there will be a time of huge change for the agricultural economy and all those involved in it, as we face moving away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

The new UK Agriculture Bill, which is designed to replace it, has been developed following extensive consultation with those working in the industry – including research carried out by University of Nottingham researchers.

We’ve been the lead research institution for the annual Farm Business Survey (FBS) for many years but the findings of the survey, which looks at the performance of over 1,750 English farms each year, have never been more important.

Results from the survey, which is commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), formed more than 50% of the evidence used to produce the new bill. Data we’ve produced shows the impact of removing direct payments from farmers, as well as the possible consequences of other changes in policy.

Our research provides the government with first-class data showing the state of English farming today. It’s a real opportunity to provide ‘on the ground’ information to those who are making policy
Professor Paul Wilson

I’ve been working on the FBS – the most comprehensive, independent and highly-regarded source of information about the performance of English agriculture and horticulture in the country – since 2006. I’m joined by a specialist team of seven others and we collaborate with five other universities and colleges to deliver the work.

Our research provides the government with first-class data showing the state of English farming today. We look at farm business records, such as profit and loss accounts, their bank accounts, their bills and the amount they make from sales of their produce. It’s a real opportunity to provide ‘on the ground’ information to those who are making policy, and I feel very privileged to be part of it.

I’ve been interested in farming since I was growing up, in particular the way some farms appear to be run better than others. During my undergraduate course I was introduced to a scientific way to analyse these differences in farm performance, that drew on farm business data. Leading the FBS is like a culmination of many years of thinking and learning coming together.

It is great to see a new piece of legislation like the Agriculture Bill being underpinned by the research we do, knowing that we have played an absolutely crucial role in helping to develop the future direction of UK agriculture and environmental policy.

Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson is Professor of Agricultural Economics in the School of Biosciences and Director of the Rural Business Research Unit. He is also Chief Executive of Rural Business Research, which is the largest specialist group of its kind in the UK and works with government, business and universities.

Vision magazine front cover - Issue 4, Autumn 2019

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