COVID-19 IMPACT AND OPPORTUNITIES
FARMING AND RURAL BUSINESSES
From food and farming, to the tourism and retail industries, Covid-19 is having a devastating effect on the economy in the East of England. But there are opportunities to adapt, change and re-grow agricultural and rural businesses now and in the future.
The Effect Now
The closure of schools, cafes, restaurants and places of work have created a decline in demand for milk, eggs, vegetables and salads. Milk, for example, has had to simply be thrown away and many dairy farms could close, with the effect that we may have to import milk in the future.
At the start of the Covid-19 crisis, farms needed to recruit 75,000 workers to pick fruit and vegetables. A small number of workers from Romania are being flown to Stansted Airport as I write, but this will be nowhere near the numbers required. Although 35,000 of people have signed up as part of a Land Army of pickers and farm works, they will need training, managing and those who are furloughed from other jobs, may need to return.
There are also 188,500 tonnes of potatoes in storage affected by problems of delivery, with demand collapsing as fast food outlets, selling chips, have closed. Consumer habits within the home have also changed, with households increasingly buying minced beef, rather than other cuts of the meat.
However, it is the small, agile entrepreneurial businesses who are able to supply food, drink and produce to local markets, who are adapting well and changing their business and marketing strategies. Collaboration amongst local businesses create a more integrated, stronger offer to customers. Local Flavours in Norfolk and Ashlyns Farm Shop in Essex are exemplars.
Farms which have diversified their businesses to attract holiday visitors join the tourism sector where it is estimated that between £17 and £20 billion could be wiped off the rural economy with businesses either closing or mothballed during this period.
A recent survey conducted by ARC member Sergi Jacques, Director of tourism consultancy Destination Research, has identified that approximately 65% of tourism business have closed temporarily and around 70% of tourism businesses predict their businesses are unlikely to survive for six months in the current climate.
Covid-19 has created a surge in use of digital technology, from Zoom, the video conferencing platform, to a wide range of other communication and training tools. This will help training and the development of new skills to be more accessible to those looking to improve the knowledge of their workforce and grow more dynamic rural businesses.
We have also seen a major change in behaviours where consumers are increasingly questioning where their food has come from and are championing local producers and small, rural retailers.
Anglia Rural Consultants will be working with clients to help them create a sustainable and effective recovery from the impact of Covid-19 providing a range of vital services such as helping farming and rural businesses to secure funding, shape their future business plans and provide expert advice and support to identify new markets move forward.
We will also be lobbying on behalf of agricultural and rural businesses, for the development of farming strategies which will support UK producers and improve policies for food security. The impact on farming and rural businesses is huge. Some won’t survive, but others will adapt, change and grow even stronger and more resilient as a result.
Emma Powlett, Chair, Anglia Rural Consultants.