The impacts of the Coronavirus outbreak have been widespread and the farming industry is one of many to have been affected. A recent survey of hundreds of farmers found that 80% expected profits to fall in 2020, while 35% predict their profitability will be diminished “significantly”.
It was also revealed that 40% had furloughed staff as part of the government’s Job Retention Scheme – an initiative that will have contributed to only 3% of respondents making redundancies – while just under 40% have been forced to close down certain aspects of their business.
The numbers are undeniable proof that the UK’s agricultural sector has been hit hard, although the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme has offered some additional assistance.
Meanwhile, those who have taken out farming insurance policies may receive a degree of protection when it comes to business interruption and other issues, but what have been some of the direct impacts of Covid-19 on the industry, and what does the future hold?
Shortages elsewhere across the sector have disrupted supply chains up and down the country. For example, farmers have seen their milk collections delayed due to a lack of drivers, while the closure of fast food outlets such as McDonald’s saw demand for beef drop significantly.
Those disruptions to supply chains had a knock-on effect on the market, with the usual purchasing habits of consumers changing drastically. Schools no longer needed milk, food outlets no longer needed meat or veg, and the market saw a greater level of volatility as a result.
Although the virus has been less prevalent in rural areas due to the reduced population density, many farmers fall into an older demographic compared to much of the UK’s workforce and were therefore classed as more vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19. An inability to work due to illness will have had a detrimental impact on the productivity of any farms affected.
Furthermore, social distancing guidelines may have affected a farm’s ability to maintain its equipment properly. Those who would have been brought in under normal circumstances to ensure all vehicles and machinery were working properly will have been unable to visit various locations under the strict lockdown measures, meaning farmers could have been forced to operate without key pieces of equipment for long periods.
What does the future hold?
Although the Coronavirus crisis appears to be easing slightly, the future still looks unclear for many industries and agriculture is no exception. The UK’s impending exit from the EU only adds to that sense of uncertainty, with nobody quite sure how any future trade agreements will affect the import-export market and, by extension, the livelihoods of our country’s farmers.