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Q & A with our Specialist Agriculture and Horticulture Adviser, Paul Ward.

Published on: 10/05/2024

In the heart of Greater Lincolnshire and Rutland, where agriculture and horticulture thrive, businesses in these sectors face a dynamic landscape of opportunities and challenges. Amidst shifting trends, regulatory demands, and environmental considerations, having the right guidance is crucial for success.

Meet Paul Ward, your dedicated specialist advisor for Business Lincolnshire. With a wealth of expertise and a commitment to supporting local enterprises, Paul offers personalised assistance to businesses across the region. Here, we explore Paul's insights on navigating the complexities of the agricultural and horticultural industries in Greater Lincolnshire and Rutland.

Image of Paul Ward

Q: Can you explain your job role?

A: Any business involved in farming production or processing can come to me for help. This could range from information about grants to finding business support, addressing mental health concerns, or exploring automation. My role involves extensive signposting, directing businesses to the right resources and experts. Additionally, I provide weekly updates to Business Lincolnshire, offering insights into current industry developments, both positive and negative. This helps keep a pulse on the overall state of the agricultural and horticultural sectors, including their economic impacts.

Q: What are the current trends shaping the agricultural and horticultural industries in Lincolnshire, and how can businesses leverage them for growth?

A: There's a notable trend of consolidation in the industry, with businesses tending to grow larger and more specialised. However, even large enterprises are experiencing contraction. Despite this, some SMEs are thriving by tapping into niche markets, offering products not commonly found on the high street. Opportunities exist in areas like carbon-conscious farming and innovative crop technologies, such as hemp production. Moreover, there's a rising demand for UK-grown flowers, particularly in regions like Spalding, where focus is on sustainability and minimising waste. Local produce also remains popular among consumers, presenting opportunities for businesses to cater to this demand.

Q: What are the common challenges that businesses in agriculture and horticulture face in Greater Lincolnshire and Rutland, and what strategies do you recommend for overcoming them?

A: Climate change poses significant challenges to agricultural and horticultural businesses, particularly in maintaining soil health amidst shifting environmental conditions. As we strive towards achieving net-zero emissions, it's imperative to adopt sustainable practices that not only mitigate climate impacts but also enhance soil resilience. Strategies such as water resource management play a crucial role too. Being able to capture winter rainfall & manage flood plains, while ensuring there is sufficient irrigation, drinking & recreational water is becoming of greater importance going forward. On top of the growing list of activities farmers must do, water management is now a key topic also, so learning more about this is important, so as to plan for future flood & drought mitigation.

Investing in soil health through practices like crop rotation, cover cropping, and reduced tillage can improve soil structure, fertility, and biodiversity, thereby bolstering its ability to withstand climate variability. Moreover, nurturing soil health facilitates carbon sequestration, contributing to overall carbon neutrality goals.

Diversification into alternative markets, such as exports, can also help businesses navigate challenges and future proof their business. Seeking support from organisations like the DBT for market research and paperwork assistance are crucial steps.

Q: How can businesses effectively navigate regulations and compliance requirements, particularly considering any recent changes or updates?

A: The agricultural sector faces extensive paperwork and compliance demands, requiring diligence in record-keeping and certification. Utilising support services and seeking guidance on regulatory changes can ease this burden. Moreover, exploring alternative markets and protecting intellectual property can enhance business resilience and value.

I've observed numerous farmers in the region harbouring innovative ideas yet failing to safeguard them through intellectual property protection. This oversight not only diminishes the value of their business potential for future expansion or sale but also exposes their concepts to potential exploitation by competitors, who may capitalise on these unprotected ideas.

Q: How do you suggest businesses approach sustainability practices, such as reducing environmental impact and enhancing resource efficiency?

A: Engaging with sustainability initiatives such as the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) Sustainable Farming Incentive and countryside stewardship schemes offers more than just financial support for environmental projects. These programmes can serve as catalysts for adopting greener practices that not only benefit the environment but also improve overall operational efficiency.

By leveraging modern technologies and embracing sustainable agricultural practices supported by these initiatives, businesses can streamline operations while reducing their environmental footprints. For example, integrating precision agriculture techniques can optimise resource utilisation, minimising waste and energy consumption.

Furthermore, exploring opportunities for local production and sourcing from nearby suppliers can significantly reduce supply chain emissions. By partnering with local producers and suppliers, businesses can not only support the local economy but also decrease transportation distances, thus lowering carbon emissions associated with transportation.

Innovative logistics strategies, such as collaborating with neighbouring businesses to consolidate collections and deliveries, further contribute to reducing carbon impact. By coordinating multiple collections from businesses situated close together, companies can optimise transportation routes, leading to fewer vehicle miles travelled and decreased carbon emissions.

Q: With technology playing an increasingly significant role, what are some innovative solutions or tools that agricultural and horticultural businesses should consider adopting to streamline operations and improve productivity?

A: Innovative technologies such as precision agriculture and automation represent a transformative shift in farming practices. Precision agriculture harnesses data-driven insights and advanced sensors to optimize resource allocation, enabling farmers to precisely tailor inputs like water, fertilisers, and pesticides to the specific needs of each plant or field. This targeted approach not only maximises crop yields but also minimises waste and environmental impact.

Automation, on the other hand, streamlines labour-intensive tasks through the use of robotics and smart machinery. From automated irrigation systems to robotic harvesters, these technologies enhance operational efficiency, reduce labour costs, and mitigate labour shortages—all while maintaining consistency and quality in production.

By integrating precision agriculture and automation into their operations, businesses can unlock new levels of efficiency and productivity. Moreover, when combined with sustainable practices such as biological farming methods or agroecological principles, these technologies can further enhance environmental sustainability and resilience.

Q: How can businesses effectively manage risks associated with factors like weather variability, market fluctuations, and supply chain disruptions?

A: In addition to diversifying revenue streams and exploring alternative markets, such as exporting or even supply of goods / services to local authorities & institutions such as the NHS for example, businesses can mitigate risks associated with market fluctuations by strategically addressing seasonality concerns. For instance, exporting products can help businesses tap into markets with different growing seasons, thereby reducing reliance on local market conditions and weather patterns.

Moreover, as climate change continues to reshape agricultural landscapes, there are opportunities to explore new crops and products that can now be grown in the region due to shifting climatic conditions. Hazelnuts or sweet chestnuts, for example, traditionally associated with warmer climates, are now becoming a viable option in certain regions of the country. We now also have a growing wine industry in the UK & even locally. By identifying and capitalising on these emerging opportunities, businesses can diversify their product offerings and expand their market reach.

Q: What do you foresee as the key opportunities and challenges for agricultural and horticultural businesses in Greater Lincolnshire and Rutland in the coming years, and how should businesses prepare for them?

A: Challenges such as labour shortages, energy concerns, and climate change will persist, requiring proactive strategies for adaptation. Investing in skills development and promoting the sector to younger generations can address labour challenges. Leveraging green energy opportunities and embracing sustainable practices can position businesses for long-term success amidst evolving market dynamics.

Q: How are future resilience and food security being addressed in Greater Lincolnshire and Rutland's agricultural and horticultural sectors?

A: Efforts include a cold store survey led by Graham Purnell of NCFM to assess cold storage facilities, aligning with the Greater Lincolnshire Cool Chain Strategy 2030. The University of Lincoln's research, supported by Lincolnshire County Council, focuses on enhancing energy efficiency. Collaboration with stakeholders ensures sector needs are met. Additionally, Business Lincolnshire's greenhouse feasibility survey seeks to identify suitable sites for greenhouse production, addressing climate change and local demand. These initiatives underscore a proactive approach to sustainable agriculture and reduced carbon footprints.

Q: Is there anything we’ve left out?

A: I'm optimistic about the future of the industry, particularly with the influx of younger generations and increased diversity. Collaboration, innovation, and support from local resources are key to navigating challenges and seizing opportunities for growth and sustainability.

Get in touch.

For tailored support and guidance in navigating the agricultural and horticultural landscape in Greater Lincolnshire and Rutland, don't hesitate to reach out to Paul, your fully funded specialist adviser for Business Lincolnshire. Contact him today to explore how he can assist in diversifying, future proofing, and expanding your business ventures.

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