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The impact of novel coronavirus on agriculture and opportunities for the future

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Just a few months ago supermarkets shelves were full, we were able to dine in our favourite restaurants and visit our local coffee shops and cafes. Move forward just a few months and it is clear that our lives have changed drastically. A growing number of people are more aware of supply chains, the environment and the importance of agriculture as part of our day to day life. As the country enters another week of lockdown, we take a look at the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on attitudes towards UK agriculture and the opportunities for the future.

A shift in attitudes

The agricultural industry has struggled in recent years, with the rise in popularity of plant-based food and pressure from cheaper imports. These consumer habits have caused issues for the agricultural industry as a whole, however, the current pandemic has led to a shift in attitudes for many people. As many shoppers begin to struggle with lack of choice, product availability and pricing, attitudes towards the UK agricultural industry are starting to shift.

There is a growing enthusiasm for the UK agriculture industry, with many consumers switching back to British produced products. This shift in shopping habits has led to a steady increase in sales for many items, especially staples such as milk, cheese, chicken breasts and beef mince. In fact, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, 7% of people claim to be eating more meat and dairy. It is clear that among the uncertainty, consumers are returning to their familiar ingredients and the number of people following a vegan diet is falling.

The majority of consumers feel positive and appreciative towards those involved in British agriculture, with the pandemic highlighting the excellent work those in the industry do. Although many appreciate the industry, not all consumers are committed to purchasing British items. In many situations, a product being British is a secondary factor after price, with some customers unsure whether the country of origin should justify a higher price.

It is hoped that when we enter the post-pandemic period, many customers who have switched to British produce will continue to seek out these products. To support this transition, there need to be increased communications about the benefits of UK products, in terms of quality, sustainability and economic benefits. As we enter a period of change, now is an excellent time for companies to hire individuals who have the skills needed to improve customer retention.

The importance of environmental sustainability

An increasing number of consumers are beginning to understand the importance of environmental sustainability. As more customers begin to acknowledge the important role of agriculture within the UK, many are also beginning to consider how their shopping habits can reduce their environmental impact. Although the immediate focus across the industry is to provide affordable, safe and sustainable food, there is scope for the industry to highlight the valuable contribution it can make to areas such as the environment and animal welfare.

The environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, echoes these thoughts in a letter written this week which calls for a global shift towards sustainable agriculture. Mr Goldsmith also explains how a commitment to sustainable land use could provide a basis for job creation throughout the country. As an increasing number of consumers make the switch to British products, now is the time to support the industry through job creation and financial support packages.

An excellent example of a niche which could be a great opportunity for many agricultural businesses is switching to organic farming. It is estimated that by 2030, 25% of EU land will be used for organic farming, with an aim to increase biodiversity and soil fertility, while also reducing the environmental footprint of food production. The switch to organic farming will provide a variety of environmental impacts, but it will also create a variety of new jobs throughout the sector.

According to the European Commission, investment in organic farming could create up to 20% more jobs than traditional farming per hectare. As the country faces an unprecedented economic and social impact from coronavirus, it is clear that the agricultural industry still has many opportunities available.

The changing roles of the agricultural workforce

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), more than 4 million people are employed within the UK agri-food sector, a figure which highlights the importance the industry has on the UK economy. Despite the vast current workforce, various issues such as environmental sustainability, traceability and food security are creating a wave of transformation throughout the sector, which is leading to a growing demand for a skilled, highly trained workforce. As the demands of UK consumers shift and climate change issues move to the forefront, there is increasing pressure for businesses to employ a modern workforce which is fit for the future.

Could a career in agriculture be an option for you?

Across the UK those involved within the agricultural industry are responsible not only for food production but also for managing our environment in a sustainable way. There is a skills shortage throughout the industry, which means there are excellent opportunities for those with the skills required.

Although there are many practical farm-based roles available, working within the agri-food industry offers many other opportunities. If you have a graduate background in technology, engineering or science, your skills could be applied to the agricultural industry. Whether you are interested in practical farm jobs or roles within agronomy, finance, education or engineering, agriculture provides a wealth of industry-wide opportunities.

If you're looking for work in the agricultural sector, Agricultural Recruitment Specialists can help you find the right niche in the UK, Europe and beyond. We can assist in finding which doors are open for you with your specific background and even advice on what you could do to improve your prospects.

Agricultural Recruitment Specialists are worldwide recruitment experts in agricultural, food, farming and rural recruitment and have a variety of executive and management positions available within agriculture, horticulture and the food and rural sectors throughout the UK and the rest of the world. To find out more about our agricultural job vacancies and discuss your future career, contact our team of agricultural recruitment professionals. You can visit our website here: www.agriRS.co.uk or call our team on: 01905 345 155 or email us at: info@agriRS.co.uk