In light of the government guidelines, all our offices are now closed and our teams are all working remotely, but are on hand to help you through these challenging times.
As the COVID 19 pandemic takes a hold globally no one remains immune to the devastating impact it is having on ourselves, our families, the economy and let’s face it, our farms too.
There is some comfort that help and support is starting to be made available, not just via your trusted adviser but also financially at least for anyone that is impacted, and although the news of the recent support for the self-employed has been announced, we are sure that the transition time for this financial support to land is going to be very challenging.
It is critical that food producers and processors can continue to operate effectively and efficiently keeping supply lines open at all times, but with the high risk of human safety being such a high factor, we know that there has never been such an important time to plan effectively.
There are a number of precautionary steps farmers can take now to reduce the potential impact of COVID-19, particularly if you or those you rely on to work upon your farm fall ill or have to self isolate:
A shortage of staff may already be an issue – particularly if you rely on EU workers who have had to leave. However, organisations are working hard to supply emergency support and there are opportunities where those who have been furloughed from other sectors/businesses can opt to work in other roles during this time.
The Landworkers’ Alliance are seeking emergency measures and working hard to match potential workers with farmers who need them. The Soil Association, Organic Farmers & Growers and other certification bodies are taking inspections online where needed to avoid risk of spreading the virus and are providing support and advice for producers.
In Cumbria and Northumberland for example, the Farmer Network are currently working on a Farm Labour Emergency Support Scheme to provide a skilled emergency work force to lamb sheep and milk cows should keyworkers on farms become absent. Further details can be found here.
The Association of Labour Providers (ALP) is also running a ‘SWAP’ online portal for GLAA-licenced businesses to share existing farm workers. This may be particularly appropriate for workers in the ornamentals sector who may be able to move onto fruit and vegetable farms. Read more here.
The day-to-day work on farms has to continue regardless of what is happening in the outside world. In particular spring means lambing and planting crops as normal. However, for those businesses that have diversified – Holiday Letting, Camp sites, etc. –these areas have been seriously affected, cash flow significantly impacted and you may be well placed to apply for government grants and funding available but please check with your adviser, particularly with regard to any planned lending. Our corporate finance team are on hand to help you with any decisions you may need to make regarding funding options, click here for further information.
Grants are also available from local authorities and most are contacting businesses who may be eligible to claim the Small Business Grant of £10,000 or the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant of £25,000. To find out how your local authority is operating this scheme please click through on the links listed here.
Supply chains have been impacted as usual routes to market are no longer there, whether that’s restaurants, coffee shops, factories, schools – the list is endless. Whilst there are opportunities to divert produce to other outlets, such as the supermarkets this can all take time. The National Farmers Union's Food Chain team is linking up foodservice businesses with retail supply chains to help provide additional volumes into shops, to make up for the drop in demand from food service.
In summary, only time will tell how farming businesses will be fully impacted. Hopefully consumers will appreciate locally sourced produce as opposed to food that has travelled half way round the world, but we have to realise that the global economy is on the edge, the environmental issues are still a huge priority but sadly we are not sure at the moment whether this priority is number 1.
For help and advice on how Armstrong Watson can help support your agricultural business through this time of crisis, please contact Andrew Robinson or Keith Johnston.