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Farming podcast transcript: How to access free business advice through the Farming Resilience Fund

Andrew Powley, Defra Productivity and Innovation Lead
Hello and welcome to Defra’s Farming Podcast. My name is Andrew Powley and I'm your host for the day. I work in Defra's Productivity and Innovation Team alongside colleagues who are developing some of the new funding schemes for farmers, and on today's podcast, we're going to be talking all things Farming Resilience Fund.

So I lead on this scheme and so my role is organising the professional business advice that's available for farmers. I've worked on the Resilience Fund since we launched it back in 2020. I'm from a farming background myself so I've been quite invested in this fund. I think it's a very valuable thing for Defra to be doing. We've done a good job I think in designing this fund alongside lots of input from industry.

We have some of our esteemed colleagues on the line with us today who've been part and parcel of those discussions. I'm delighted to be joined by these two guys, both are called Richard, so hopefully it won't prove too confusing. Wwe might have to come up with some nicknames for them both.

So firstly we've got Richard Wordsworth from the National Farmers Union. So I guess, Richard, you might be NFU Richard from here on in. Welcome to you.

Richard Wordsworth, NFU Senior Adviser (Support Schemes)
Thanks, Andy, and thanks again for the opportunity for doing this podcast because I've been involved with the development of the Farming Resilience Fund with colleagues since its early days, and so from my perspective it's about having a scheme that is fit for purpose, that offers our members and farmers alike support through this transition from the Basic Payment Scheme, Common Agricultural Policy, into the new domestic schemes. I'm coming from a farming family from the southern counties and prior to the work of the National Farmers Union, I was a farm business consultant. I've seen the benefits of support for farmers.

Andrew Powley
Great. Thanks for that, Richard. And we also have another Richard, so joining us from North Yorkshire is Richard Findlay.

Richard Findlay, beef & sheep farmer
Thanks, Andrew. We farm in a place called Westerdale, which is in the middle of the North York Moors National Park. We're a traditional hill farm, about 20 miles inland from Whitby and 25 miles south of Middlesbrough. Most of our farm is common land, heather moorland that accounts for about 500 hectares and then we have about 100 hectares of fields in Byland. We run about 6-700 sheep, we have about 80 beef cattle as well. We're very much a family farm, so a farming partnership with my parents, but I'm ably assisted by my wife and family and as I say, we're very much a family farm.

Andrew Powley
Wonderful. Okay. Thanks for that, guys. Let's get on with it then, so everything you need to know as a farmer how to access this help for your business. So I thought it's going to be useful for me to provide a quick bit of context just for any listeners who maybe aren't aware of the Resilience Fund before we dive into a more detailed discussion. As we all know, farming is going through a period of significant change as we move to new models of support and the Resilience Fund was developed to provide farmers with specialist advice to help navigate those changes and strengthen their businesses.

We've got 17 delivery partners who are providing advice, and it's available to anyone in England who is currently in receipt of BPS (Basic Farming Payment) or who has an HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) agreement. We launched the Resilience Fund in 2020 with a small pilot, and then there was a larger interim offer during 2021. And then the full rollout started at the end of last year and runs until March 2025.

So there's still plenty of time left to get involved, and we'll mention a bit more about how you do that later on. Across all the phases so far, over 15,000 farmers have signed up to receive support and we're hoping to help many thousands more in the next year or so.

NFU Richard, Richard W., I know you've been out and about discussing with NFU members, so I thought it might be a good point to start off with to ask you if you had any general reflections on how the Resilience Fund has been received, how it's been used by members?

Richard Wordsworth, NFU
Yes, that's a good question, Andy. Our members are always very proactive and they keep us informed of developments, and they certainly keep us informed of things where they feel there could be improvements made. I'd probably say about the Farm Resilience Fund, when I speak to farmers that have been involved with it, they've been appreciative of the offer and they can see the benefits of it and why it is being offered at this point in time.

So yeah, it's been a good process and a good offer that Defra has put out there along with the range of agricultural transition plan activity, you know, the specific schemes, the specific timelines and that type of thing. So, the varying offer, the flexibility, within constraints of timescales and requirements Defra need for ensuring the scheme runs properly, I think it certainly seems to be delivering for those that have been engaged with it to this point.

Andrew Powley
Yeah, that's reassuring to hear. One of the things that we hear in feedback that comes directly to us is farmers are quite appreciative of the fact that, there's a lot of delivery partners involved, so there's a spread, there's a range of services that are on offer and also that we partner with organisations that in most cases they're familiar with and have credibility already with the farming community. Does that accord largely with what you hear about people who've used it?

Richard Wordsworth, NFU
Yes, Andy, it's obviously the way you've structured it with those parties that you've engaged with to deliver this. I think it's absolutely important that they are people that are relevant, known, they're trusted, they can provide this free and confidential support to farmers, on perhaps areas which are a bit tricky, a bit sensitive, things that may have been pushed, perhaps pushed to one side for perhaps far too long or things that have happened and the trigger points of changes to to support payments, opportunity for people to then start to look at those elements on that side.

So, certainly from our point of view, we see that the offer here is not just about what the next support payment could be for a business, we see this support being used quite strategically, where the business may be in 5 years time and we've heard from members who have used it for landlord-tenant discussions, succession, diversification opportunities, retirement, collaboration, the next generation, a whole range of things, that's the really important thing here. This is about business, not necessarily about the support schemes.

The way that the offer has been structured allows people, you know, through that range of providers, as you say, and these are available and there are people in each county. There's a range of options that people can choose from, and I think that's really important here, that people find the right people to help them with the things that they want to have a discussion about.

Andrew Powley
That's heartening to hear that the schemes function in the way we envisioned it would, so that's really good. One of the things our listeners might find most interesting is to hear how this process functions from someone who's been through it.

So I wondered if I could turn to Richard 2, farmer Richard now, just talk us through your experience. So, how you became aware of the fund, take us through what you did, how you found it, and what you got out of it.

Richard Findlay, farmer
Yeah. Thanks, Andy. We heard about the fund because we used the delivery guy for advice previously and I'd heard about the scheme through Defra publications and NFU publications and so I just phoned him up and said, can you come and see us? Our BPS is going to decrease. Our eldest son is 20 and really keen to farm and join the family business so we want to explore opportunities for that.

That's how it started, he came along initially and we prioritised how we might make up the reduction in BPS. We looked at increasing output and reducing costs. We don't have a lot of shiny new machinery, doing without a new tractor wasn't really an option. So we looked at what would make a difference, and both my son and I, we wanted to become less reliant on direct support, full stop.

So we set goals in our ambitions, we wanted to pretty much get on and farm. That's what we've done. We've increased output, moved away from the reliance we have on direct support. That's not just BPS. We're a hill farm, the biggest part of our farm by far is common land, there's currently very little on offer in terms of SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive) on common land, it's probably always going to be left till last in the ‘too difficult to do’ box so we've moved away from worrying about BPS to what we could do to replace any environmental stewardship income, again, look at increasing output.

So that's where we are. We started growing spring barley. That was the initial advice to cut food costs. We've reviewed that and we've actually grown twice as much this year and we've done forward budgets for the next couple of years to increase that further because we can grow spring barley cheaper so we can buy barley in, it makes a huge saving in our feed costs, also it's allowing us to look at SFI options on Byland, which on arable or temporary grassland are much more lucrative than they are on permanent grass at the moment. Without an objective pair of eyes, we wouldn't have probably looked at and considered some of those points.

Andrew Powley
Brilliant, that's really great to hear. The things you talk about there, reappraise how the business runs, looking at ways to improve outputs. Farmers, of course, do need to be aware about the various other schemes that are available from government. We do endeavour to keep our providers up to speed with the latest policy developments and we run regular webinars with them so they're in a position to provide the latest information about these schemes. The productivity schemes, like the Farming Investment Fund, did that ever feature in any of the discussions that you had?

Richard Findlay, farmer
Yeah, we've used the farm productivity scheme, we've got a sheep weigh with electronic weigh scales and we've got a cattle crush, and we're getting a set of weigh scales for those. We didn't just look about cutting our costs out, with my son wanting to continue, we've looked at where we should be investing in the business to make it more efficient and more accurate weighing of the cattle and the sheep was a double win, if you like, made us technically more aware of our performance figures and more accurate, and that's made a big difference.

And also, we've done forward budgets and projections and our bank manager loves it, not only the fact that we're actually looking at the business with an objective pair of eyes but also, with the help of the scheme, we've moved away to almost no reliance on direct support at all. Our bank manager has been really supportive all the way through, and I've ended up emailing him the link so that he can put some more of his customers in touch with where they can get the help that we've had. He loves it.

Andrew Powley
That's brilliant that the scheme’s being promoted far and wide and get the help out to as many people as possible, so that's really great to hear that. You said earlier that you already had a previous relationship with the person who gave you your advice. Now you've got this business plan and these forward budgets, is it your intention to continue working with them, to review it as time goes on, a more longer term relationship?

Richard Findlay, farmer
Yeah, it is. We've found it really useful. We are doing some changes for our own peace of mind to keep my bank manager as my best friend. We will continue. When we've made business decisions in the past, we've always had a second opinion and that'll continue.

The last 3 years with this scheme has highlighted rather than just use it when we felt necessary, it's probably more use to have an annual review with him, just to see where we've got to, whether we've achieved the predictions and if some things work better than expected, do more of it, and if something hasn't worked quite as well as we'd hoped, how can we make it work better, or should we consider doing something else altogether with it. So, yeah, it has highlighted that professional advice on a more regular basis is certainly helpful to us.

Andrew Powley
Yeah, thanks for that. I'm sure that's going to be really helpful for our listeners to reflect on. Turning back to you, NFU Richard, we've heard one great example there of what's on offer. I know that the kind of providers that we've got working for us have many different approaches and some focus on specific elements. There's something for everyone, we like to think. Have you come across anyone who's used the Resilience Fund in a different way?

Richard Wordsworth, NFU
Yes, Andy, just reflecting back on the reports we've had back on this, we've had members come to us, as farmer Richard says, they've started a conversation which may run beyond the period of this grant. So we've certainly had people talking about succession, if you think of the average age of the head of the farming holding and where that is in demographics and these changes that are coming down the tracks, a couple of members we've spoken to have looked at succession, so that's business structure, looking at who's in control of the business, how the different generations can, you know, some ease back, others come on board, and use this as a way of bringing everybody round the table and this can be used as a stimulus for that.

So we've had that. We've had a landlord-tenant situation, discussions around the maintenance of buildings, use diversification within those farm buildings, and this opportunity has helped with that advisor to bring those 2 parties together to discuss that, to then allow the parties to understand each other, move things forward.

So it's been a good platform for people, there's something for everyone here, the use of benchmarking for some because some want to understand where they are in their performance data compared to their comparables, whether it's financial, people looking at their finances through that second set of eyes, to bring that experience around the kitchen table is really important there.

So, and I would always say, it is confidential, there are a range of providers out there. You need to be getting on with the person who's going to support you here, both short term or longer term, so speak to a couple of the providers, see what they can offer.

And as you said, Andy, there are different options here, there's benchmarking, there's webinars, there's 1 to many, 1 to 1, a range of ways that people can interact for this offer here and I'm sure, people will speak with other farmers in the area and see if they've done it. I see this as a positive, a strength point for farmers, it's something that farmers should do from time to time

Andrew Powley
Yeah, the feedback that we've received is that the people who have taken part have extracted some real value from it.

Richard Wordsworth, NFU
I would be urging anybody to look at this offer well before March 2025. There will be something for everybody to get a benefit out of. So the roll out of SFI and those elements, yes, they're happening over a period of time, but that shouldn't prevent anybody getting a benefit.

Andrew Powley
Yeah, I would definitely echo that. It's certainly never too early to start to have these kind of conversations.

I promised earlier I'd give you the lowdown on how to apply, and we've touched on some of this already, but definitely the best place to head is the GOV.UK website, and the easiest way to find that is just by searching Farming Resilience Fund, and it will be the top option that's returned. So that site will list all the providers, it will give you information about where they operate, information about what they're offering, and contact details so you can get in touch with any of them for further information. If you aren't able to access the website, there is a helpline and you can get that on 03459335577 and somebody can take you through that process.

So, Richard, if you could just talk us through in practical, step by step, what was the process of working with the advisor?

Richard Findlay, farmer
It was really straightforward for us because we already knew the adviser who was coming. I phoned him up and said, you're one of the delivery bodies for the Farming Resilience Fund, can we make an appointment for you to come and see us? He already had a pretty good background of the farm. He'd sorted out the family partnership with me and my parents.

We spent an hour and a half having a walk around so he could familiarise himself with where we'd got to with things, and then we sat down, I'd done a bit of homework, where we were with borrowings, numbers, stocking rates and a forward budget, which months we would sell lambs or cattle or whatever. So it worked well.

And then after that, it was a conversation about what we wanted to get out of it, how do we replace BPS, looking at increasing output, and then, eldest son is doing his degree, in a year or 2's time he'll be finished. We want to bring him in, he's already doing a lot on the farm, want to bring him in full time and what the opportunities are. And then it's just morphed over the 3 years to what's working. The cattle are doing well so we've decided to increase those, the spring barley’s gone really well, so we've decided to increase those. It's just expanding on what we're already doing, doing more of what's working and reviewing what isn't working.

We will continue with the advice on an annual regular basis, for a couple of hours, a couple of times a year, every year, a quick business overview of the performance, and SFI coming along, we'll certainly have a look at that when we get time, and then there will be something on the common land for us to look at. So, certainly over the next few years, we'll continue with the advisor.

Andrew Powley
I'd like to get a sense of how much preparation is required before a farmer takes up this advice. Is it the sort of thing where a farmer would have their own ideas about the direction they want to take their business in and they want to get advice on those specific decisions or is it more of an open-minded evaluation of all the options that are available, discussing what the options are? NFU Richard, if you've got a view on that?

Richard Wordsworth, NFU
That's a very good question. I think both those elements are important here. Some will clearly have ideas of what they may want to think about doing and they may be using this discussion and opportunity to bounce those ideas and be challenged by somebody who has the experience in those areas.

And equally, there'll be some who will have general things that they need to discuss. I wouldn't want people to take away they have to spend hours and hours preparing for a visit. But I think equally, it's worth determining who they want to work with, looking at the websites the providers have that support this scheme, you'll get an idea of the sorts of things that people may cover and that may trigger what you do want to talk about, and that might be slightly different to where you started from. I think a little bit of preparation is always useful but, as Richard has said, the discussion can go off in different directions when the parties meet.

Andrew Powley
Farmer Richard, do you have any reflections on your experience of that?

Richard Findlay, farmer
For us, the initial discussion, we did a risk analysis. So on the first meeting, we didn't have many beef cattle at all. We were pretty much just a sheep farm.  One of the questions I asked the adviser was, should we de-risk ourselves by increasing the beef cattle to become more of a significant part of the farm? At the time we'd agreed in principle a trade deal with Australia and New Zealand and it looked as if that might be in the future a challenge if you had all your eggs in one basket, which was sheep production.

Also introducing cattle onto the farm would provide a larger quantity of muck and fertiliser prices had rocketed. There were a number of questions and I guess I had an idea in my own mind what the answer was. It was just reassuring to throw the questions out to a completely independent, open-minded, no-preference adviser and see what they thought, whether the figures matched the aspiration.

And then latterly, we've tweaked it. So we did introduce more beef cattle. We've left some as bulls inside, the rest outside grazing. We've taken the decision on the performance, we leave all the male cattle as bulls because they do perform better, it suits our system to have less outside grazing and grow more barley as a rotational break crop, the muck is improving the fertility of the farm, having a rotation improves the fertility of the farm.

We haven't stuck with the original plan. We've reviewed it and I think the reviewing afterwards in the 2nd and the 3rd year makes more difference than the initial plan on the 1st year, which is why I will continue on an annual basis to review things.

Andrew Powley
Right, well, farmer Richard, NFU Richard, thank you so much for your time today. It's been really great to talk to you. I hope what we've discussed will be useful to any farmers who are listening who might be considering taking some of this advice for themselves.

Richard Wordsworth, NFU
Thank you, Andy and Defra team for the putting on this podcast. I much appreciate the opportunity to speak and feed into it.

Richard Findlay, farmer
Thanks, Andy, we found the scheme really useful and if I can encourage anybody else to take it up, then that's a great outcome of today.

Andrew Powley
Great, and of course, thank you to our listeners. If you'd like to subscribe to our podcast, you can get it wherever you normally get your podcasts from. And if you want to follow the Defra Farming and Countryside programme in more detail, you can follow us on our blog, at Thank you for listening and thank you again to our guests.