Working together to manage risk and increase resilience

Farmers and agronomists need to be proactive to manage risk and increase resilience. Resilience needs increasing through innovation in risk management. So how do farmers and agronomists work together to increase their capacity to adapt quickly and successfully in the face of risks?

There are many variables to consider when we’re looking at practical risk management to increase resilience: soil quality and health, establishment, variety choice, pests and diseases, crop protection options and harvest timing. For example, compaction reduces vining pea emergence by up to 40 per cent, plant growth by up to 50 per cent and may halve root development, reducing yield by up to 40 per cent (Becky Howard, PGRO). So, if you can avoid compaction at establishment you can go some way towards managing the risks later in the season such as limited water or nutrient uptake.

Soil management is not just avoiding compaction. Practical and sustainable soil management integrates rotations, cultivations, compaction, organic matter, soil nutrients, cover crops, soil biology and soil health, and precision farming. AHDB’s GREATsoils programme helps farmers and agronomists to protect soil and improve its productivity by addressing the three principles for soil management: physical, chemical and biological.

Practical risk management also includes contracts, labour and machinery, insurance, budgets and wills and agreements. And all of these will have an impact on the relationship between a farmer and an agronomist. It is important to build a plan, build relationships and build resilience following the five elements in managing risk:

  1. Identify
  2. Assess
  3. Plan
  4. Implement
  5. Communicate

At the recent Agronomists’ Induction we heard from Strategic Farm East host Brian Barker on his attitude to risk and risk management: “I’m a farmer, which means I’m a gambler. I like growing crops and I invest money into them. Although I check the weather every day I can’t control it. I like to see barns full after harvest but I don’t know how much I will produce. I like to make money but I can’t control how much I get paid for what I produce.”

To increase his business resilience, Brian farms to potential not hope. He said: “The devil is in the detail.” Working with his agronomist, Toby Clack (Farmacy), Brian has created a yearly systematic approach to crop assessment and benchmarking: “We use a traffic light system for cost investment, weed and disease pressure. We also make sure that we engage with other local farmers so that we can regularly discuss and review progress.”

There’s lots to consider when you’re looking at practical risk management. But you don’t have to do it all at once and you definitely don’t have to do it alone.

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Emily Smith

Emily Smith