Trends in the Agriculture Industry 2023
There’s no doubt that 2022 was an unsettling year for farmers. As the agriculture industry slowly recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic, it encountered a heatwave and drought, a major bird flu outbreak, and raging field fires. The impact of climate change is becoming undeniable as the trend towards extremes of weather is being felt globally.
Last year also saw the price of wheat, fertiliser, animal feed, agricultural diesel and electricity skyrocket worldwide. For the UK, the impact of Brexit became clear, resulting in loss of access to EU export markets, labour shortages and much more paperwork.
More positively though, smart technology in agriculture is booming and the UK government is lending its support with a number of fully-funded, future-proof initiatives. Sustainability efforts within agriculture will also go one step further in 2023, in line with national nature recovery and biodiversity targets.
Want to delve deeper into how the agriculture will fare in 2023? Here are the key agriculture industry trends and agriculture industry statistics to be aware of.
A Birds-Eye View of the UK’s Agricultural Landscape
Made up of over 215,000 farm businesses spread across the nation, the agriculture industry contributed £3,585 million to the UK economy in the third quarter of 2022. Agriculture provides half of the food we eat and employs a workforce of over 301,000 members, a 1.3% increase since 2021 (Department for Environment and Rural Affairs).
However, tumultuous times lie ahead for farmers as National Farmers’ Union President Minette Batters explained to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs:
“The intensive sectors are facing a real hammering at the moment with avian influenza, and the national pig herd is one third smaller than what it was. Growers are also facing huge challenges with access to labour but also rising energy costs, rising wage costs, the impact from the war in Ukraine and huge volatility in general in the gas market.”
Major 2023 Agriculture Industry Trends
Smart farming refers to using modern technology to increase the quantity and quality of products, while optimising human labour needed for production.
Through the £270 million Farming Innovation Programme, the UK government is funding ambitious projects to boost productivity on farms, encourage sustainable farming practices, and improve animal welfare and food quality. Automation and robotics were also identified in the National Food Strategy for their potential to promote growth in the sector.
According to a survey by finance company, Propel, the UK’s agritech industry looks to go from strength to strength this year:
- More than three quarters of farmers (76%) are now exploring the use of high-tech equipment on their farms.
- Renewable energy technology is the third most popular purchase, after tractors and trailers.
- Despite the implications of Brexit and Covid-19, 75% of farmers are looking to acquire assets in the next 12 months.
A high profile example of the UK’s agri-tech investment is the development of a net zero farming centre in North Wales, which will pioneer new technologies in digital, precision agriculture and renewable energy.
In terms of agribusiness trends, Hartpury University and Hartpury College have built a Digital Innovation Farm Tech Box Park based in Gloucestershire, where roughly 74% of the region's land area is used for primary food production. This free workspace supports local SMEs in the agri-tech centre and is crafted from environmentally friendly, repurposed shipping containers clad in cedar wood.
The demand for nature-friendly British farming only continues to grow and 2023 looks to be a prosperous year. Sales of organic products reached approximately £3 billion in 2021, up from £2.9 billion in 2020 and £2.48 billion in 2019 (Statista).
A study by The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs revealed that land going through the two-year conservation period to organic rose by 34% in 2021, compared to the previous year. In 2022, the UK government announced that it would pay up to double former rates to farmers in England who convert to organic. The UK government continued to incentivise organic farming in 2022 by paying farmers who convert to organic. Last year, farmers could apply for the scheme with Countryside Stewardship and receive up to double the previous cash rates for going organic. Payments were set to rise between 45% and 500%, in line with the 23% in the organic market since 2019.
Everything from food grown in fields to the water we drink is underpinned by wildlife. Research has shown that wildlife habitats can have a positive effect on crop production; farm profits can increase even if the area cropped is reduced. However, centuries of farming, building, road works and industry have heavily degraded the UK's natural landscapes. As a result, the UK only has half of its natural biodiversity left and sits in the bottom 10% of all countries globally in how much of their biodiversity still survives.
To combat this, the Department for Farming and Rural Affairs has introduced several environmental land management schemes that pay farmers to enhance their natural environment, such as by improving soil health. These actions will aid increases in biodiversity and also contribute to air quality, water quality, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
UK Trade Post-Brexit
Since leaving the EU, UK farmers have lost unfettered access to their nearest export markets (Agricultural Recruitment Specialists). Cost increases mean consumers are now paying £12/kg on average for lamb compared to £8.50/kg for beef, £5.50/kg for pork and £4.50/kg for chicken.
Many farmers feel disadvantaged by trade deals giving rival farmers from Australia and New Zealand access to the UK market. There’s also a concern for farmers previously dependent on the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), which will be eliminated by 2028. The EU practice subsidies farmers per acre in England; government research demonstrating the policy is the difference between profit and loss for 42% of farms. In 2022, the progressive phasing out of the CAP left farmers 20% down and they will be short by 50% of the previous EU subsidy in 2024.
Following Brexit, export health certificates must now be signed off by a vet. According to the cross-industry veterinary and environmental group, the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Certification Working Group, this added £60 million to the cost of food exports from the UK to Europe in 2021.
We can’t forget the labour shortages in the UK agriculture market, which we pegged as one of our main agriculture industry trends for 2022. A lack of workers in agriculture resulted in £60 million of food wastage in the first half of 2022. This follows an annual cap on visas made available under a seasonal workers’ scheme, as free movement between the UK and EU has now been scrapped. The risk of labour shortages is that the UK produces less food, becomes more heavily reliant on imports, and prices are raised even higher.
Global Economic Crisis
With the threat of a global recession and surges in the costs of food, energy and labour, the prices of agricultural commodities are roughly 50% higher than before the global pandemic (Yahoo Finance). Prices have risen steeply for fertiliser, animal feed and agricultural diesel; the cost of nitrogen fertiliser alone has increased by as much as 240% since 2019 (NFU).
One of the biggest threats to the industry is the shortage of wheat, with the Russia-Ukraine war having a direct impact on the world’s harvest (United States Department of Agriculture). Dutch multinational bank Rabobank has forecast a six million tonne deficit in wheat for 2023, which can also be attributed to uncertain weather prospects across the European Union, United States and Argentina.
While the energy crisis will pose a significant threat to the rural economy in 2023, it could open up opportunities for the delivery of renewable energy schemes. These will not only support the agriculture industry’s climate neutral goal of reaching net zero carbon by 2040 (10 years ahead of the national target of 2050), but they can also reduce farmers’ running costs. As an example, roof-mounted solar PV schemes can help farmers and landowners cut their electricity bills by reducing the amount of energy they buy in (FWI).
To summarise, here are the main trends in the agriculture industry for 2023:
- The global economic crisis has seen prices soar across all industries. In agriculture, costs have dramatically increased for fertiliser, animal feed and agricultural diesel – nitrogen fertiliser has increased as much as 240% since 2019. More than three quarters of farmers (76%) are now exploring the use of smart farming.
- Labour shortages pose a huge threat to the future of UK farming, risking a decrease in food production, higher reliance on imports and further cost spikes.
- As a result of Brexit, new export health certificates must be signed off by a vet.
- The future looks promising for organic farming, with product sales increasing year on year.
- New government-funded schemes are set to pay farmers to enhance their natural environment.
- Farmers could reduce their running costs and support the industry’s goal of achieving net zero carbon by 2040 with renewable energy sources.
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