As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Finding the sweet spot for farm sustainability
by Arable Farming
When Andy Guy first started his consultancy business in 2010, sustainable food and farming was something of a niche area, in contrast to today where it is top of the agenda for many businesses. Alice Dyer finds out more.
An enterprise that is environmentally sustainable, socially acceptable and profitable is the definition of a successful business for consultant Andy Guy, whose approach revolves around the application of integrated farm management (IFM).
“If it’s not those three things, it is not sustainable,” Mr Guy says.
“IFM is a way of thinking, rather than a rule book.” If you follow that way of thinking diligently you will reduce the negative aspects of your environmental impact, increase the positive aspects of it, make more money and get on better with your neighbours and the society you are farming in.
“Thirty-five years ago it was about getting more, which was probably right at the time, but now it’s about optimising, not intensifying output and finding the sweet spot that’s right for your business.”
In March Mr Guy became the first consultant to be officially endorsed by Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf).
“My involvement with Leaf started when I took on a council farm tenancy in Gloucestershire; I was new to farming and craving information. I joined Leaf and saw it contributed towards our success environmentally and financially. The IFM they advocate worked for me and forms the basis behind a lot of the advice I provide to farmers now. If you follow their model you will make more money than you did before.”
Much of his work involves simply providing businesses with a ‘health check’.
As an adviser on Corteva and Leaf ’s Resilient and Ready programme, his approach underpins the phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’.
One business on the programme knew how much energy they were using but not where it was going exactly. They started recording precisely how much diesel they put in and the job they were doing and it showed all sorts of things.
They have two identical grain trailers, except one had old super single tyres and the other had flotation tyres which are kinder on the soil.
“While working the two machines on the roads, they discovered the amount of extra fuel it took to pull the trailer with flotation tyres was significant compared with the super singles. When they calculated this, they could buy a spare pair of wheels and tyres for each trailer so they now have two sets and it’s reduced their diesel consumption significantly. That’s less carbon they’ve burnt, less money spent on diesel.”
And with some major challenges ahead for arable farmers, Mr Guy says there is no better time to be honing in on these details.
“There will always be a need for commodity crops, but in the UK we’re trying to compete with countries that are always going to be cheaper. We need to upsell a bit, either by selling exactly what our customers want or persuading them that we have something they want. That might be net zero or biodiversity – it’s not just a crop we’re selling but a whole story about the British countryside.”
This is particularly relevant in the context of farm assurance schemes such as Red Tractor, where Mr Guy recognises growers’ frustrations in adding costs to already tight margins.
“The markets we are trying to sell in are global ones where the lowest cost of production wins so you can see the desire to do away with any of those costs. Red Tractor is not without its problems, but my concern is the main supermarkets and big buyers would look for something like Global GAP to replace it, which would be different but not necessarily better.”
Despite the impending challenges facing the sector, Mr Guy believes the prospects for young farmers are good.
“When I was trying to get into farming, a farmer told me if you can put together a business plan that shows a profit when a lot of businesses are struggling there would be opportunities, and he was right. However, there’s no point in coming up with a plan that looks how farming looked 10 years ago. You’ve got to look at how farming might be in five to 10 years’ time.”