COVID -19 impact on farmers
In the past week, updates have been released daily with new restrictions placed on the population whilst the Government works tirelessly to try and support the economy. The food processors and retailers are having to adapt rapidly to new ways of working and new challenges, almost on a daily basis, and although this is having a knock-on impact, farmers are deemed to be key workers for both animal welfare and food supply and can therefore continue.
Luckily, spring has finally sprung and the land is drying up enabling ground work, muck spreading, even silaging (for some) and spring lambs to be out playing in the sunshine. Although tractor work is seen by many as a way of self-isolating, added biosecurity is in place on many farms to ensure tractors are allocated to members of staff to ensure no cross contamination. Contractors are trying to liaise over the phone to enable them to continue to work but within the safety of their tractor cab.
TB testing, routine vet visits, AI technicians, foot trimmers and other vital support activities are continuing to service the livestock industry but with added safety measures in line with Government guidance. It is key that these workers are allowed on farm without contact with other people or in areas which could have been contaminated. Livestock markets are also continuing with increased safeguards in place with some having a reduced schedule with no onlookers or public welcome.
There has been a decrease in lamb price reflecting the shift in demand from food service to retail. This could also happen with the beef industry with more cuts being included in mince which may reduce carcass values. These businesses could see themselves eligible for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the latest Self-employment Income Support Scheme if they have lost trading/partnership profits due to COVID-19.
Unfortunately, many processors are experiencing staffing difficulties with employees in self-isolation. It is a very challenging time but generally milk and grain collections have continued, together with slaughter, but with added precautionary measures in line with Government guidelines. Some milk processors have confirmed that they will pay for milk even if they are unable to collect it. Retailers and manufacturers are streamlining product offerings to ease some of the pressure from the increase in retail demand.
It is vital that farmers are thinking ahead to ensure necessary supplies are available. Although some supplies, such as semen, seem unaffected in many cases, stores are running low on certain chemicals and wormers and vets are requiring you to pre-order giving a minimum of 24 hour notice. Warnings have been issued for some fertiliser and feed supplies, with reports of goods arriving at the docks but problems in subsequent distribution across the UK.
With the exception of potential delays in fertiliser distribution, arable farmers, in general, seem to have suffered little impact at present with limited disruption reported in grain collection and the delivery of agri chemicals. They may also, finally, be able to continue with drilling after many months of persistent rain. Many will welcome this good weather and will be very happy to self-isolate on their tractors if it means spring crops can be drilled before the end of March.
Considering agricultural work is of a time critical nature, whether it be spring drilling, lambing, milking or general animal husbandry, a crucial consideration will be contingency planning in the event of a key worker falling ill. It will be important not to transfer the virus to any newcomers but also to assess where the additional help may be found.
Seasonal workers have received a lot of press with calls for a ‘Land Army’ to help with the potential shortfall of 80,000 workers but little support has been issued in respect of full time farm workers who are critical to the business in which they work. Where businesses are faced with this challenge, help or guidance may be available from farming charities. The Farming Help Charities, The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs and The National Farmers’ Union are working together to support the farming community during the COVID-19 outbreak. You can access support by calling the Farming Help helpline (operated by the Farming Community Network) on 03000 111 999 or visit www.farminghelp.co.uk for further information.
As well as the impact on businesses, there is also an impact on family life. Whilst many farmers may practice social distancing, or even self-isolation, as part of everyday life, whole families are now at home which can create its own challenges. Although lucky to have the space for children to play, it may raise health and safety concerns around the farm with parents trying to continue their daily routines whilst juggling childcare, coupled with the added pressure of protecting the older generations.
For some, the Job Retention Scheme may be an option to help protect older generations, by allowing businesses to designate employees as furloughed workers and therefore reducing the number of people on farm. Where employees are shielding, in line with Government advice, and are designated as furloughed workers, the employer should be entitled for a grant of 80% of the employees’ gross wages. The scheme appears to apply for farm workers despite farming being classified as an essential job.
The Government website provides information on the range of measures which have been announced, but understandably full details are not yet available. We will be working to help our clients understand what support they can access, which may include:
- Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the latest Self-employment Income Support Scheme if they have lost trading/partnership profits due to COVID-19.
- Support grants and Business Rates holidays for those with diversified businesses.
- Job Retention Scheme for employers.
For many farmers it may be a little early for us to see the full impact of Covid-19. We will continue to monitor the situation and be in contact with our clients regarding the support available. For more detail on many of the Government’s support packages please visit:
Finally, we are not yet aware that the BPS deadline has been delayed, presumably because it is an online service but you should contact your Land Agent for the latest updates. Also, the long-awaited Environmental Bill has been suspended until the end of April 2020 which could well be delayed further.
Farming continues to face significant challenges, but it remains important to look for the positives within them and the opportunities available.
Please do contact us as usual if you would like to discuss these matters and the impact on your business and your family.
Kate Bell (née Bailey) BA(Hons) ACA ACCA
Kate joined Evolution ABS in March 2016 having moved from another South West based firm where she was Senior Manager of their Agricultural team. Kate was appointed director in May 2018 and specialises in more than accountancy and tax, offering proactive business planning and advice to a range of rural entities.
Kate holds a number of other voluntary positions including Treasurer of Somerset YFC, Secretary of the Somerset branch of the Centre of Management in Agriculture and committee member of the Somerset and Dorset Branch of the Agricultural Law Association, just to name a few!
Kate loves nothing more than to spend her weekends helping on her husband's farm but since joining the team has been converted to cycling as well!