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AgriCulture Live Podcast Transcript - Episode 10

AgriCulture Live Episode 10 with guest John Giles from Promar international

"Issues Affecting the UK Agri-Food Market"

Rebekah: 0:00

Good morning everyone and welcome to AgriCulture Live. Today I'm joined by John Giles from Promar UK, and we're going to be talking about the future well, the current state of the agri-food market and all the issues around that. So, if you've got any questions or comments that you'd like answers to, please post them and we'll get to them when we can. So over to you, John introduce yourself, where you work, what your company does?

John: 0:28

Good morning everybody, and thanks, Rebekah, for asking me to join you this morning. I hope you know the next half hour or so proves to be interesting for people as to what we've got to say about what we see happening in the, not just in the UK, but around the rest of the world as well. So as an introduction, Rebekah, I'm John Giles from Promar International. I'm a divisional director in the agri-food team there. I've been with the business quite a long time. I joined the business at exactly the right moment in time, really from my point of view, because someone knocked the Berlin wall down, that seems like a long time ago now but we started doing projects in you know what was Eastern Europe and then into Russia and the former Soviet Union and I had the great opportunity to go and see what was happening in those countries at the time and never really stopped travelling. So I've been to about 60 countries around the world and all around the UK and, as people you know normally say, if you know, travel broadens the mind and it certainly broadened my mind over the years and I've had a great time and a lot of the work we do in Promar would be in the dairy sector, but also beef, lamb-I've done a lot of work in and pork to some extent, and I've done a lot of work personally in the horticultural sector.

John: 1:44

But in this time I've been at Promar. I've looked at all sorts of different other products as well. You know - wine, sesame seeds, nuts, you know, you name it. We've had a go at it, probably at some stage. And then Promar itself, and I'm a pretty normal bloke Rebekah, I've got three kids in their 20s, all making their way in life, and I'm an incurable football fan. I follow Reading Football Club for my sins. So yeah, I'm a normal sort of guy who's had a very interesting career. I want to carry on doing that.

John: 2:19

Promar itself? We're an agri-food consultancy company. We employ about 140 people in the UK. We've also got people working for us in Italy, Germany and one or two other parts of the world as well. We're part of Genus PLC. Genus is a livestock genetics company with its shares traded on the stock exchange. There's the part of the business that I work in which is looking at markets and data and supply chains, and then the last thing we do is almost like a standalone project in Promar that we run - the DEFRA Farm Business Survey, which is a big, big commitment. We collect data from about 3500 farms every year on behalf of DEFRA.

John: 3:02

It's like an audit of UK agriculture, UK farming.

Rebekah: 3:07

Fantastic. So how did you get into this position? And how did you get into the agricultural sector and why?

John: 3:13

Well, I think it's not uncommon I didn't plan to do this. You know I left Swansea University quite a long time ago now, Rebekah. I had no real idea what I was going to do, and I spent a few months over the summer periods doing sort of casual jobs and then I think my dad said to me you know, “hey, are you going to get yourself a proper job?”, which is the sort of question we all dread. And I saw an advert for a what was a relatively small agricultural consultancy company in Solihull in the West Midlands, and I applied for it and I got it and it went from there. Really, I think at the time, sort of living in Birmingham had quite a lot of appeal, for when I joined the company, I didn't really know what they did and I don't think they really knew what I could do, but we found out over a period of time. I was there for about eight years and then I joined what is now Promar.

Rebekah: 4:06

Fantastic. So what we're going to be talking about - the current state of the agri-food market today. So, you know you're full of knowledge, John. What are the main things that affect the UK agri-food market in the present day?

John: 4:22

Well, there's a whole list of things, Rebekah, I know you and I have talked about this a little bit in the build-up to this session really. Sometimes people say you know, are we in a defining decade for agriculture and food in in the UK and maybe other parts of the world as well? And I think the short answer is probably yes, we are, and we're also four years into it. So, you know what we, what we've seen, I think, over the last two or three years. In particular, we're going to carry on seeing, and it starts with things like climate change.

John: 4:52

This is a massive issue. I think in the UK, we've seen variable weather patterns, but in other parts of the world, we've seen incredible changes in in weather patterns, you know, all around in North America or in Latin America or in parts of Africa, South East Asia, but climate change and the whole move towards a sustainable low carbon supply chains is a massive driver for change. In the UK and you know, most of the big supermarkets have made big commitments to try and achieve this in a relatively short period of time, and then they're working with their suppliers. So, the big meat companies, the big dairy companies, the big horticultural companies and so on and so forth, they're all, they're all on a journey, basically, and it's quite a difficult, challenging journey to make, but it's something we need to get our heads around.

John: 5:37

I think we're making good progress in some cases, but there's a lot of work still to be done. So, climate change and sustainability would perhaps be two of the real big standout drivers at the moment. But also, we've seen, you know, we've seen in the UK, you know, the ongoing impacts of Brexit. That was something we chose to do in the UK. Whether it would be a good idea or not, in five years time, will we look back and say, well, actually it would, it did make sense. At the moment, you'd say it's caused a lot of problems.

Rebekah: 6:08

So tell us what are the effects of Brexit, John?

John: 6:12

Well, I think there's a number, really, Rebekah. So, one of the things we've seen the trade friction between ourselves and our European partners. So if you look at UK exports food export, ag-food exports - Europe is still our biggest market, and in some ways we've almost sort of turned our back on it a little bit, but the trade friction we've seen for products going out of the UK but also products coming into the UK. This is all added to cost in the supply chain. There's been a number of studies done about this , in Promar - I've done one or two but the sort of general view is that, trade friction adds about 8% to the cost of products.

John: 6:41

So, we've also had the sort of general view is that, trade friction adds about 8% to the cost of products. So, we've also had the sort of cost of living crisis as well over the last 18 months or so, and it looks like rates of inflation are starting to come down now, but the reality is that food prices are still increasing and this has all added extra pressure into the supply chain. So, we've had Brexit. We've had the impact, you know, the rolling, the knock-on impacts of covid. We haven't seen the last of those?

Rebekah: 7:07

I don't think so - tell us, tell us about that because covid for most of us it was like living in a movie. What it was crazy. You know what? How? How did covid impact everything?

John: 7:18

well, I think there's a number of things again, Rebekah. We could spend the rest of the morning talking about this one, I should think. But we but we saw a massive change in food shopping habits. So, people, we'd already started as a country, as a market, to buy products online, but we exploded, didn't it? During COVID? And that's in some ways, that was, you sometimes forget. You know, I remember going to a supermarket just out near where I live and we, we had to queue to get up, queue to get in. You know, they're letting in people, you know, three or four at a time.

Rebekah: 7:50

I mean, I forgot that already.

John: 7:52

Yeah, I remember queuing on a Saturday morning, you know half an hour, to get into a supermarket. It's incredible. So, I think the change in shopping patterns, you know the food service sector - eating out of home, that just closed down completely, really didn't it for a long period of time.

John: 8:08

If you look at the data that's available, the food service market in the UK has only really got back to where it was in 2019 and there's still pressure in it and it's an important route to market for many food companies. So, changing shopping habits, food service sector still struggling, I believe you know we're back to where we were in 2019. So, we've missed out on three or four years growth there. And then you know lots of issues which not totally due to COVID, but there were other things happening as well, not least Brexit, but the availability of labour at farm level and in food factories. We had food factories closing down at some stages - if they had big covid outbreaks breaks, and you know, around the world, you know world trade slowed down because of covid, basically, and we're getting back to where again, back, getting back to where we were, but yeah, there'll be the rumbling after effects of COVID going on.

John: 9:09

So we've talked about climate change, Brexit, COVID, you know the war, the tragic war in Ukraine, that's we saw. You know fertilizer prices, grain prices, oilseed prices going through the roof and you know, again, there's been quite a lot of work done on this. And the sort of general view is that if, the fighting stopped in Russia and the Ukraine today, it would take two or three years for world markets to re-stabilize. Basically, and unfortunately, it's difficult to see that happening, isn't it? It's difficult to see the impacts of climate change going away. The rumbling after effects of Brexit and COVID won't go away. The situation in the Ukraine, let alone what might be happening in the Middle East at the moment, the causes of the sort of volatility we've seen in the market, in the UK market and markets around the world, the fundamental causes aren't going to go away in the world.

Rebekah: 10:06

The fundamental causes aren't going to go away. How else has agri-food been affected in the UK?

John: 10:10

Because of the war in the Ukraine? Um well, fertilizer prices went through the roof, grain prices went through the roof, and sort of just general, just I suppose, disruption, uncertainty. Uh, you know, food markets tend to work best, Rebekah, I believe, when there is less disruption. When there's no disruption, they're still quite complicated. But when you've got this disruption going on which sort of permeates out across the rest of Europe, you know they're very concerned in places like Poland as to what might happen there, basically and Poland is quite an important food supplier to the UK for a range of products basically. So, the uncertainty, the fuelling of price inflation in the supply chain. This makes life difficult and challenging.

Rebekah: 10:59

So, big talk at the minute is the cost of living crisis. How is that affecting everything in agri-food?

John: 11:10

Well, as I said a few minutes ago. I mean, it looks like the rates of inflation are. You know, we got up to sort of 14% didn't we? About a year ago, and it looks like the rate of inflation has come down now to a much, much more palatable figure. But the reality is that, you know, food prices are still increasing.

John: 11:26

I think what it's done, you know, for consumers it's made life very hard. You know there was lots of talk, wasn't there, about people having to decide about are they going to buy food or pay their gas bills or electricity bills or fill their car full of petrol. So, consumers have been squeezed. Nobody in the supply chain really wants to pass on additional costs to anybody. Really, if it can be helped, if it could be of help.

John: 11:53

So, supermarkets have been working very, very hard to try and keep, you know, the rate of inflation down when you go in into a store on a Saturday morning or wherever you, whenever you buy, or whether you're buying online and um, you know, food companies have had to do the same. Basically, they've had to look for every single efficiency they can find in their supply chain. They've had to look to control costs and it's not easy. We've done some work in horticulture, for example, where Rebekah with the NFU - where the you know the rates of inflation seen for across the board. Labour, packaging, uh, transport, um, all these things, they've all been going up and at some point something has to give.

Rebekah: 12:27

You can't just keep absorbing the additional costs - I was going to say, you know, do you think that we, as consumers, pay a fair price for food at the moment?

John: 12:38

Hmm, well, again that one could take up the rest of the morning, Rebekah. Well, look, consumers have to pay the price, which is the price, don't they? Basically, I mean, if you look at sort of long-term trends, in the UK we spend less now on food as a percentage of our overall income. You know, if you go back a generation, it might have been sort of 30 percent of people's income was spent on food. Now it's about 10 or 11 percent. It's gone up a little bit in the last couple of years.

John: 13:06

Um, there's, it's quite a hard question to answer, uh, definitively, because there's such a wide range, you can go up market and spend quite a lot for your food. You can shop, I mean. So, one of the things that has happened in the last, you know it's been happening for a while and again, I think the supply chain shocks have actually helped accentuate what's happening is the growth of the discounters. Aldi and Lidl. You know their model is deliberately sort of low cost, keep it very simple. There may be a little less choice than you would get in some of the other supermarkets, basically, but they've, they've shaken up the UK retail market considerably over the last few years. And you know again, if you look at the statements being made by Aldi, and Lidl in particular, they say we're not stopping here, we're going to open up, you know, many more stores around the UK.

Rebekah: 13:57

All the other retailers have had to sort of react to that, and so, yeah, I mean, price has always been important, always will be important, but it's been particularly important at the moment and a lot of people that you know would have shopped at the higher end retailers shop at the moment, and a lot of people that you know would have shopped at the higher-end retailers shop at the Aldi and Lidl's now, don't they?

John: 14:18

Yeah, look, you've only got to look at the growth in the market share of Aldi and Lidl. You know the other big four. You know traditional supermarkets have all been. You know they haven't been losing catastrophic market share, but they've all lost market share. And where have they market share? And where they lost it to, they've lost it primarily to the discounters. Yeah, so they, they have had to react and they have to compete with the discounters who almost sort of reset the bar in the UK as to what food costs.

John: 14:42

And it's interesting, you know, for many, many years, Rebekah, we, we looked at the discounters in continental Europe and thought that's, that's a funny way of shopping. You know, we quite like Tesco and Marks & Spencer’s and Waitrose and Sainsbury’s and others. Basically sort of that's what they do on the continent, where then Aldi and Lidl have shown that actually we do like. You know, we, we almost turned our nose up a little bit at the discounters. That's a, that's a funny way to shop, um, but we, but you know you look at the growth in market share of Aldi and Lidl in the last couple of years in particular, it looks like we quite like shopping in discounters, maybe not for all our products, but certainly our core products.

John: 15:20

And then you know sort of top up shopping during the rest of the week. I think you know it used to be that people went to supermarkets and sort of did all their shopping on. You know me, I've always been told to think you're not totally typical, but I would have gone to on a supermarket on a Saturday morning and bought everything for the week. I think now people are baby buying their core products once a week and then they're topping up a lot during the week as well.

Rebekah: 15:41

So, going to compete, going to convenience based local retailers yeah, so just going back to the issues that we were speaking about, um, can you tell me about the logistics issues because of the Red Sea and the Panama Canal?

John: 15:57

Yeah, well it's sort of bum fight at the moment, isn't it? I mean, if you go back a couple of years, Rebekah, to what happened during covid, you know the ship, you know the world shipping lines were in disarray, really. There were plenty of ships out there, but they're all in the wrong place and the cost of shipping went through the roof and delays to shipping people. We work with clients in places like South Africa and the US and they would say we could guarantee we can get our products to you in the UK in a certain number of days 15 days, for example but the shipping lines went haywire, so what used to take 15 days was sometimes taking 30 days, and the cost of doing it went through the roof as well. So again, the world shipping problems, you know, don't just start, you know, a few months ago with issues in the Red Sea.

John: 16:46

There they go back a while and I think what happened was that, again, over a period of time, the world shipping lines had, sort of it, started to calm down and get back to where we would normally expect to be logistics, delivery schedules and maybe even the cost of shipping as well, was coming back to what you might sort of recognise as being more normal. And then, you know, there's a whole range of things going on, isn't there? So, we had the situation in the Suez Canal, where a ship got stuck in the Suez Canal. That caused lots of problems. And then we're seeing that in the Red Sea it's a volatile part of the world, isn't it? And shipping lines are being rerouted. I might have you on that. That all adds extra cost and time to the supply chain.

John: 17:29

Basically, and again you know, the issue in the Red Sea is caused by a number of sort of geopolitical factors. You know what's happening in the Middle East uh, Iran, Gaza and Israel, you know they're, they're all um, well, sometimes I'm not sure what they're doing, to be honest, Rebekah, but uh, yeah, it's a, it's a difficult situation, and so this all adds extra time. And again, you know, it'd be lovely to think that the situation in the Middle East calmed down in the next week, month. Difficult to see that at the moment, isn't it? They're pretty intracted positions that the protagonists are taking on this. So I think we'll see. And then there's been problems in the Panama Canal as well. So, um, again, I don't see these sorts of issues. This is, you know, people talk about the new normal and I think this sort of situation is really much part of that new normal. Um, ways of dealing with it.

Rebekah: 18:30

So, looking at all of these issues, you know what does it mean for the future, John? What's the impact? You know where do we go from here?

John: 18:42

Again, we could talk about that all morning, Rebekah, couldn't we? But I think we're in for a period of sustained volatility, and so we need to be agile in the way we manage our supply chains and we need to be flexible, and these are sort of words that trip off the tongue quite, quite easily, but agile supply chains, flexible supply chains and sustainable supply chains in particular, and we need to be making every effort we can to try and ensure that's what we create. If we haven't already created it, we need to create it again pretty quickly and what's the impact on consumer behaviour?

John: 19:21

A key factor on determining consumer behaviour is the cost of food, isn't it? You know? So we are seeing inflation come down, but even though it's coming down, prices are actually still going up. So, I think, consumers well, we've got an election allegedly later this year in the UK. It'll be interesting to see how consumers react to what might be a change of government.

John: 19:50

But I think consumers will carry on being a bit cautious in what they spend and how they spend. The same time, when they do spend, I mean in in the food service sector it, you know, it, looks like that. Uh, as I said, we, we, the overall demand is, um, it's all back to where it was in 2019. So we've lost a number of years of growth, which is, you know, not desirable. But, yeah, people still go out to eat.

John: 20:17

I mean, I was out, I live in Reading, as you know, Rebekah. I was out in Reading at the weekend and you know, uh, restaurants and cafes seem to be quite full, but I'm not sure they're quite as full as they used to be, and they, I think they also used to be. Uh, this is anecdotal. I've got a friend who works in a restaurant in the centre of Reading and they said on a Saturday we were full all day. And they say now, by about seven o'clock in the evening, people have been out, they've eaten and they've gone home. So consumers, yeah, I think consumers will remain quite cautious, and understandably so. 

Rebekah: 20:50

And that's fair, isn't it? That's very fair, I mean. So, we hear about climate change all the time at the moment yeah how is that affecting agri-food?

John: 21:02

Well, again, it's not just a UK issue, is it? This is this is probably maybe the single biggest global issue we face at the moment. Um, and there's been all sorts of intergovernmental agreements and the sustainable development goals that people have signed up to, basically, but what we're seeing is, again, disruption to production. Um, look, in the UK, we've had an incredibly wet period, haven't we, over the last month or so, which you know will damage crop production or limit crop production. But we're also seeing that in other parts of the world, and then, at the other extreme, we're seeing sort of drought, so drought in parts of Latin America, parts of North America, parts of sub-Saharan Africa. This, all this, all limits or can cause a limitation on production. Basically, um, and again, it's just another area which we have to try and understand to begin with, and then manage and then implement on so why is there such a need for supply chains to be resilient and sustainable, John?

John: 22:08

Well, the short answer is, if they're not, then we won't get food into supermarkets or shops or restaurants, I suppose. But also, you know we've got these commitments that you know all sorts of governments, big companies have made to reduce carbon emissions and what have you, and so we need to accelerate the progress that's being made on that. But yeah, if we haven't got resilient supply chains, I think it was interesting during covid, Rebekah, I mean there were times you could go into a shop and the shelves would be empty. Um, you know, we're, you, we're spoiled in the UK, aren't we? We expect to go into a supermarket and we expect it all to be there all the time, competitively priced and whatever.

John: 22:51

And we found that during covid in particular, had a bit of Brexit trade friction in there that you can go into a supermarket and find that there was there wasn't a full array of products there and the prices have gone up considerably. Basically, so, if, if, we don't. But having said that, I think Rebekah again it was interesting, you know, sort of you might go into a shop one day and there wouldn't be anything in there. You might go in a second day, but within a few days they were back to where they were. So, I think our supply chains are, you know, commendably resilient overall we take it for granted, sometimes don't we?

John: 23:26

We do very much, take it for granted, aren't we lucky in the UK and other parts of the world. These are serious, serious problems and I think our supply chains showed during Covid that they are remarkably resilient. You know, but, but, but clearly under huge pressure.

Rebekah: 23:44

So how important is the role of technology and digitalization in the UK supply chain? John?

John: 23:51

Yeah, well, and again. We could go on about this all morning as well, Rebekah, probably. But I think you know sort of people say well, how are farmers going to mitigate all these things we're talking about, be it some trade friction, be it COVID impacts, could be it climate change and so on and so forth, and soaring prices, and what have you? And, of course, in the UK, reduced subsidies for farmers. You know the. And, of course, in the UK, reduce subsidies for farmers. You know the direction of travel is clear. Their farmers will get less subsidy for production and they might get some more subsidy for environmental good practice. But so, one way farmers can get through again.

John: 24:29

What is a very challenging period of time is looking at the use of technology. We embrace it in every other part of our lives, don't we look? Look what we're doing today. Uh, we're using technology to do something. You know, a few years ago we all had to go to um, you know some centrally appointed uh meeting venue, and do this sort of in person. We, we can now use technology to do all this sort of thing. So, and the array of technology that is out there for dairy farming, livestock farming, horticulture crops and so on, and so forth is staggering really, um, and there's a lot, there's huge amounts of money being poured into this.

John: 25:05

The UK government is quite strong. They want, they want a sort of tech-based society, don't they? Um, and that applies to farming as much. So there's significant help. Again, I think we're lucky in the UK that, or fortunate, in the UK, there is significant help, um, from the, you know, not least the agri-tech centers that have been consolidated, only in the last couple of weeks, basically, but there is quite a lot of government money out there to help do this. Because, again, it's very challenging.

John: 25:33

But one way farmers will survive and thrive in this sort of incredibly volatile situation and a situation of reduced subsidies is making use of the agri-tech is that is out there, and it is out there, you know. But in some cases, I think, Rebekah, it's quite challenging for farmers to decide sometimes which is the right piece of agri-tech kit or service or technology at the right time, and it has to be affordable, of course, and it has to work as well. If you're looking at sort of, you know where, there is a lot, there's a lot of interest in all these areas we've been talking about, but agritech, I think, is going to be an area we hear an awful lot more about and, yeah, we have to get on board basically and part of that is the sort of digitalisation of supply chains as well.

Rebekah: 26:26

But do you think that the retailers just looking at the supermarkets and things like that, do they over rely on technology? I mean, we had the issue with Sainsbury’s not so long ago where you couldn't, you know, go and pay for fuel because there was a disruption to that.

John: 26:50

Uh, let's hope it holds up this morning. I think it will, but, yeah, there will be problems with technology from time to time, basically, and you know that situation with Sainsbury's didn't last long if it wasn't Sainsbury's, it could have been somebody else, basically. So we also need to have resilient technology that doesn't crash and leave us. Leave us sort of, oh, what do we do now? The? You know, the technology's gone down, the website's gone down, the yeah, the platform we're sharing isn't working properly, and, uh, and so the ability to move data around between people in the supply chain, whether it's the producer or the processor or the retailer, that that will you know again, that that will speed up and, uh, make supply chains we hope, we think, we expect make them more resilient and more efficient.

Rebekah: 27:34

Fantastic stuff, John. So we've covered a lot of reasons of volatility in the world at the moment affecting UK agri-food, but do you think in five years' time they'll all have gone away?

John: 27:49

I wish. Look, all these things also present opportunities to do things differently as well. So we can get a bit gloomy if we're not careful, but all these things that we're seeing also present an opportunity, not least through use of technology, not least through the use of digitalization of supply chains. Uh, they, they present an opportunity to do things differently, and we probably do. You know, I sort of said at the start are we in a defining decade for agriculture and food in the UK and other parts of the world? I think we. We probably are, but we're already four years through it.

John: 28:20

So hey come on, let's not hang around. But yeah, if you look at the fundamental cause, the absolutely fundamental cause of this, Rebekah - climate change - is climate change going to go away in five years? No. Is the situation in Russia and the Ukraine? Well, what I said was, even if they stopped fighting, stop the hostilities. Today, it would take two or three years for the supply chain to re-establish some degree of normality. Um, is the situation in the middle east going to resolve itself?

John: 28:58

Unlikely it will be. You know. I mean, at best, you probably would hope for an uneasy truce, wouldn't you? But the Middle East has always been a bit of a flashpoint for sort of these geopolitical tensions. Are the US yeah, again US/China trade discussions? There's discussions. There's an election. We've probably got an election coming up here in the UK. This is general conventional thinking, isn't it? But there's definitely going to be an election in the US, and the relationship between the US and China is absolutely fundamental to the world economy, basically. So, we might see some improvement, Rebekah. We've been through a period of incredible volatility, but the fundamental causes of that aren't easily going to go away. So, we I think we're in for a period of sustained volatility. But that makes that makes life hard. That makes life hard, but it also presents an opportunity to do things differently yeah, because there are opportunities in difficult times aren't there, you know, we've seen that in the past.

Rebekah: 29:47

So, in terms of recruitment, what does this all mean for agri-food recruitment in the UK?

John: 30:07

I wondered when you get round to that. Look, I think we're going to need we already do we are going to need every talented person we can find to come into agriculture and food, and agriculture and food has sometimes been - it's not seen as a very glamorous industry to come and work in at times. So, I think we've got to sort of reposition agriculture and food as being very important and you know there's a wealth of careers out there, so there's the technical sort of jobs that need doing. So how do we manage a farm, how do we manage a food factory? How do we distribute, how do we market, how do we retail? All those sorts of things? Those are things that are almost givens now.

John: 30:46

But I think also, we're going to need people who understand the issues we're talking about, these geopolitical issues that you know. We need people who understand really understand climate change and what, what the impacts might be and what the opportunities might be as well. We need people who understand, um, you know the tech side of things as well, again, and what the opportunities are. Um, you know talking to, uh, our IT guys at Genus they, you know. So, I sometimes grumble about, wow, you know we're trying to keep up with all the technical changes that we're making uh, you know particularly sort of working online and transferring of data and what have you. And they reassure me don't worry, John, you probably know a bit more than you think but they also say things like we haven't even really started. So, I think companies that understand and can master and use the tech will be really important. So we need people who've not only got good sort of traditional technical skills in farming and food production and processing and marketing and distribution, etc.

Rebekah: 31:46

We also need people who've got really good skills in in in technology yeah, and like we said before on our other shows, that some of the jobs that will be coming up won't have been, even we won't even know about well, it's interesting.

John: 32:03

If I just took one example, you know that. You know there's almost like a new job category, isn't there? Sustainability, you know, Director of Sustainability? We didn't. You know. You will know more than I, Rebekah, but you know, for four, three, four, five years ago, we didn't have anybody called. Yeah, we didn't have people in food companies called Director of Sustainability or Director of ESG, uh, whatever, these are all really important. It's almost like a new category of job that has opened up, hasn't it really? And yeah, that's an opportunity to bring in people who are not maybe from a traditional farming background. I think you know people. The conventional wisdom was you know you've got to have spent. You know you had to go to an agricultural unit or an agricultural orientated university. You had to get an agricultural or food orientated degree. I haven't. I got a fairly average geography degree, uh, many, many years ago, as I said, but um, it's not and I'm from a non-farming background.

Rebekah: 32:54

We need new people coming in because you know the average age of farmers, the exciting things that happen in the new technologies that people can get involved in. There's so much for people and it's a lovely industry to be a part of.

John: 33:09

Yeah it's a great industry to be part of and it is exciting. I mean, we talked about sort of the downsides of some of these things - climate change, Brexit, covid and so on and so forth, disruption to supply chains and sustainability and what have you but it also makes it an industry at the moment where there's a tremendous amount happening and it's potentially all very, very exciting.

John: 33:32

But, we're going to need people with these new skills, I think, Rebekah, as much as anything, and I don't think I think the days of you know you had to. If you've got an agricultural and food background or training, that's not going to do any harm, is it? But there's also an opportunity to bring people in from other areas of the economy who probably see things a bit differently.

Rebekah: 33:51

So now is the time. If you haven't considered agriculture, food farming, you know agri-tech - Come and join our industry there's some great things happening!

John: 34:02

Also I think also, Rebekah, young people yes - who's going to understand the tech and appreciate the sustainability challenges.

John: 34:11

I'm not saying that anybody of my age or my generation can't. You know the age profile of farmers, not just in the UK but around the world, is wrong and we need to get young. You know we need everybody. We can find every talented person we can find. But also we need to encourage the next generation into the industry absolutely.

Rebekah: 34:33

Two other areas I always harp on about. You know we need to be doing more in terms of this type of education in schools. You know, getting young people out to see about this, the sector itself, um, and getting careers advisors to you know. Come up with this as a sector, because sometimes it just gets completely overlooked.

John: 34:55

I think you’re right. I mean, school curriculums are pretty. Uh, one of my daughters is a teacher, uh, Rebekah and so is my sister and they, you know, they say the curriculum is packed but we've got to find with other stuff but there can be overlapping.

John: 35:07

So you know the tech, you know the tech. You know we could teach kids at schools and universities about sorry, do you call them kids, but to me they're all young people but we can teach them tech. But we're also going to say that so you could apply this in many areas of the economy we are going to move to a tech based economy, but we, if we haven't already done so but you know agriculture, but it's then it's up to the universities and colleges and people like Promar and genus and levy boards and the NFU to sort of reach out to people and say, look, there's, there could be a really great career for you in agriculture and food. It's going through a period of fundamental change. We need to do things differently and we need great people coming in and we need we need the next generation.

Rebekah: 35:52

And the other thing is, John -You know parents can get involved. You know I look at, I've got toddlers and you know they've got a spark of an interest. You know you see them playing with tractors going out to these farm days, visiting farm parks. You know there is interest there in some of these kids we've got to, you know, help them yeah, I think I think it's a concerted effort, isn't really?

John: 36:16

I don't think any one organization can do this all on their own. Uh, we need a concerted effort, isn't it really?. The thing that worries me a little bit, Rebekah, is we've been talking along these lines for quite some time.

Rebekah: 36:28

And nothing's changing.

John: 36:29

We still haven't quite cracked it, have we? I mean some of the people coming into Promar, some of the people I meet coming into Genus and I also go and talk to students at various universities during the course of the year.

John: 36:48

Yeah, they're very, very impressive, but we need to show them there's a real career path within agriculture and food and what they can do and sort of. When I started doing this sort of work, Rebekah, there was a sort of almost like, unless you're 30 and got a few grey hairs, you know you won't be able to do the work. Well, actually, I think that's all wrong. We've got some great young people coming into the industry, but we need more of them and we need to give them, at the right time, you know, the right training and all this sort of thing, but we also need to give them the responsibility.

Rebekah: 37:20

Absolutely. We need to be more at more of these careers fairs and things like that. But I've had a question here from Sandeese who said - how can Africa emerge in the new technologies that are now essential to the industry, looking at limited resources when compared to European countries?

John: 37:36

yeah, that that's a good question. So thanks very much, uh Sandeese, for that. So, some of the issues we've been talking about, not least climate change, are more maybe in the UK, although our climate has been highly variable over the last few years. If you look at these world maps that show where parts of the world are hotting up or whether there are severe drought issues and also the other way, lots of flooding and what have you, it's all very difficult, isn't it? But in Africa, the issues are probably as acute as anywhere in the world, I would have thought, and there are lots of projects going on in Africa to try and mitigate these things and make a contribution.

John: 38:20

So the uk agri-tech centres, yeah, they're focused on the UK, but they've got quite a big outreach program they look at, they're looking at projects in Africa as well, and one or two other parts of the world Latin America, I'm sure. And then you know there are projects funded by people like The Gates Foundation. You know significant investments going in and a lot of it is about, you know, using technology, empowering small-scale farmers in particular, to be able to enter supply chains or more formal supply chains and in some cases even export. So again it looks. It would be lovely to sort of have. If we had a magic wand, Rebekah, wouldn't it be nice? And we could say well, all the problems are solved. But they're challenging. But the need in Africa is strong as anywhere else and in some cases the resource going into Africa will be as strong as anywhere else.

Rebekah: 39:18

I've absolutely loved this discussion today. You've given me lots to think about and I'm sure the viewers and listeners too. Thank you everyone who's joined us today. Thank you, John. Next Monday at 10.30, I'm going to be joined by Edwin Nichols of DroneAg. So on to the Agritech side there - John?

John: 39:39

Yeah, well, that will be interesting.

Rebekah: 39:40

And we'll be talking about how advanced drone technology is revolutionising agriculture and farming. If you've got an interesting topic in agriculture that you would like to talk about, please get in contact with me via Agricultural Recruitment Specialist, which is and if you would like to hear more on new issues and topics within the agricultural and farming industry, you can follow us on various channels, including Spotify, YouTube, Apple Podcasts. Just look up AgriCulture Live. So, thank you very much for joining us and, John, would you like to say goodbye?

John: 40:21

Yeah, I'd just like to say, Rebekah, thank you for asking me to do this. I've enjoyed it as well. Um, not least, when you get asked to do this sort of thing, sometimes you have to sort of order your thoughts so you can give a sensible answer. So, it's quite useful for us to. I think you know all these things are washing around in our heads on a daily basis. But, yeah, being asked to do this makes sometimes you think about well, what do I want to say? I knew some of the things you were going to ask about, one or two things I didn't. That's not a problem. I've enjoyed it.

John: 40:48

I hope people listening have enjoyed it, found it useful, and I'm always happy to participate at some point in the future, Rebekah, if appropriate and if anybody, again, I'm on LinkedIn and Twitter and on the Promar website you'll find me If anybody wants to ask me any further questions. I'm aware that we've had about 40 minutes, haven't we? These are huge issues and we could carry on talking about them for the rest of the day. So if anybody wants to get a hold of me, they can either do it through Rebekah or you can get hold of me. They can either do it through Rebekah or you can get hold of me directly and I'll be happy to engage. It's good to talk, as they say.

Rebekah: 41:22

It is.

John: 41:23

Thanks again, Rebekah, for asking us to do it, and I hope everybody else has a great Monday and a good rest of the week and our paths will cross.

Rebekah: 41:33

Thanks again, John, and I'm sure we'll have you back again. Goodbye everyone.

John: 41:37

It would be my pleasure.

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