Manage change, or be managed by it...
In setting up Wreyland Rural Planning I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to achieve.
During the 2010's I spent a lot of time working on farms in between periods of academic study and professional work. I felt that this was necessary - it is all very well having a glittering set of letters after your name, but if you've never actually done the work, how can you understand how farming works?
Three employers immediately spring to mind as having had a significant impact on my approach and what I am setting out to do.
One ran a significant livestock enterprise spread between Carmarthenshire and the Brecon Beacons. He produced really decent quality stores on the high ground, before finishing them in Carmarthenshire on salt-marshes, selling to the supermarket.
The second farmed barely marginal ground in a National Park in the southwest. An achingly beautiful landscape though with small field sizes, an abundance of granite and a significant number small tenancies with many different landlords - a really challenging and to most people 'un-economic' landscape. His approach to management was an extensive, low input - low output system focussing on solid husbandry to produce good quality store lambs that had a reputation as flying when taken off the granite and moved to finish on the lowlands. He paid his (largely domestic) landlords in kind with good management of their land.
The third was a New Zealander who had three traditional upland sheep-farms in New Zealand's Central District. He had an abundance of grass, most of which was at 45 degrees. Overnight the bottom fell out of the sheep trade, being replaced by the early 2010's with significant Chinese demand for dairy products. In response, he too changed, abandoning the farm’s three woolsheds, and turning the farm wholesale to dairy with an, at the time, very experimental once-a-day milking system.
The EU chose to subsidise farming. Mainly as a result of the Second World War and the desire for the Continent to never go hungry again, to maintain resilient food production through agriculture’s natural economic cycles, to subsidise food so that the poorest in society have access to good quality, cheap food, and more latterly to support environmental objectives. A problem however that arose from this, I believe, was that subsidy, in any industry, can dis-encourage business from adaptation. It mitigates the need to look at one’s immediate surroundings for other opportunities which may be available from which alternative sources of income can be drawn.
By 2024, depending upon how much a farmer claims under BPS, that income will be reduced by between 50% - 70%. This is a significant change – possibly one of the biggest to affect the rural sector since 1945. A gentleman, much cleverer than I, named Jeremy Moody, recently called on the need for landowners to either manage change, or be managed by it. Now is the time to assess assets, and put them to work – to build up a ‘warchest of opportunity’ so that our rural sector can remain resilient as we move into the next chapter of our national story.
Everywhere I look I see opportunities for development, opportunities that if taken advantage of can be used to provide resilience to farm incomes. Re-using a farm’s existing traditional buildings, looking at opportunities for the odd field corner which might be well located next to a village, lifting agricultural ties, establishing commercial uses in buildings which can then be let out for an income are all viable options on the farm. Local Authorities are increasingly keen on rural development with the direction of travel further supported by national policy.
Going back therefore to the original subject of this post, my aim is to work with those three farmers. Using skills drawn from a decade in farming, rural surveying and planning consultancy, to provide sound advice to forward thinking clients to increase resilience in the rural sector through the submission of robust, correctly considered planning applications that take advantage of all rural opportunities for development in order to maximise returns and do justice to our countryside.
That is what I want to achieve with this firm.