National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs

Fun, Learning, and Achievement

11 November 2021

With a demand for more information about upcoming industry changes, NFYFC’s annual AGRI Forum, held online during National Young Farmers’ Week, provided the perfect platform for young farmers to discuss the future.

Chaired by Somerset YFC member and YFC AGRI Chair Tom Pope, the Ready for Change? event included panellists from Defra, the media and the financial sector to discuss the personal and professional impact of the current Agricultural Transition period.

Pope was joined by Defra’s Director for the Future Farming and Countryside Programme Janet Hughes, Defra’s Head of Farming, Innovation and Productivity Sarah Evered, Farmers Weekly editor Andrew Meredith, Director of Agriculture at NatWest Roddy McLean and YFC AGRI Vice Chair Sammy Allen from Nottinghamshire FYFC.

An online poll during the event revealed that the majority felt there was too little detail available about the changes within the current transition period. Hughes was able to outline the ambition as well as the timeline of schemes that had already been launched by Defra or that were scheduled to come out soon.  And while Hughes explained that Defra didn’t have all the detail yet, it was made clear that the government was taking a test and learn approach to prevent providing false certainty.

“You don’t say, ‘here’s everything I am going to do on my farm for the next seven years come what may.’ You do things, see what you learn, see what the weather turns out to be like and then you adjust and adapt your course. And we need to do this programme like that otherwise, we’ll fail,” explained Hughes who also reassured everyone that more detail is coming out over the next few months.

During the discussion, Meredith was keen to point out Farmers Weekly’s position through the transition period as a publication that would speak up for farmers.

“We want to break down the jargon, cut through the noise, and we want to distil exactly what it means for you as much as possible at farm level.” Meredith said.

“We see it as our role to speak up on your behalf and hold Defra to account and the other governments too as they develop their new environmental plans and do all the other things that interact with the farming that happens at a farm gate level.”

Both Meredith and McLean encouraged young farmers to reach out to industry mentors who would be invaluable to their future success and available if approached.

McLean also acknowledged the current cost of inflation and that future food prices would be affected. Despite these concerns, he felt confident that changes to interest rates would not exceed a 1% rise. He warned though about the pace of change and the need to ensure the human race survived the climate change challenge.

“I can’t remember when we’ve had to face so much challenge and change, not just in the sector but in our lives in general,” said McLean. “We have got to find a better way of doing things and how we live. If we don’t get this right, it’s not the planet we’re going to kill, it’s us that we’re going to make extinct.”

As a young farmer, Allen raised a concern about insecure prices and whether carbon yields would be the new pub conversation. Hughes agreed that the new normal would be comparing carbon yields as well as crop yields, and encouraged the concept of enterprise stacking and diversification for profitable businesses. 

Defra also confirmed it is continuing its extensive work on a future New Entrants scheme to identify the way Government might help young farmers overcome the three main barriers of access to finance, land, training and skills. Defra’s intention is to provide a framework and continue the valuable discussions already held.

The final topic of debate focused on the recent RABI research that highlighted the industry’s high rate of poor mental health. Pope outlined how farmers often felt overwhelmed by the public perception of the industry and the need for farming to be viewed more positively.

“It’s awful that there is such a high level of depression and suicide among farmers and I think some of the work that farmers do to make this something farmers talk about is really important,” said Hughes who hoped the Farming Resilience Fund programme would help people look at potential change and plan accordingly.

“I hope that the work we are doing, taken altogether, will help to present farming in a positive light. It will help people understand what the options are and that are available to them and for them to engage meaningfully in the biggest challenge of our time.”

The full discussion is available to watch online below.


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