We ask Karen Powell, Managing Director at CXCS, for her views on agriculture and what the future holds for farms in our county
1 Tell us what CXCS does?
We’re specialists in agricultural compliance, so help English and Welsh farmers prepare for inspections, secure accreditations and maintain compliance in soil, manure and nutrient management. We provide a service completing stewardship and grant applications and the paperwork for major farm assurance schemes. We also provide a full Carbon Auditing service and offer a bespoke range of Health and Safety, Human Resources and Rural IT support to help businesses in agriculture and other industries fulfil their legal obligations by working safely and efficiently.
2 How are farmers in Herefordshire feeling about the future?
A lot of them are worried. Prices aren’t great at the moment, so it’s tough. Only a few months ago, for example, milk prices were over 50p/litre, but by September 2023 they’d dropped to about 35p/litre. That sort of drop has a huge impact on any business. Also in England, direct payments (ie the Basic Payment Scheme) are falling rapidly. But farmers everywhere are resilient and used to coping with market fluctuations. Some are viewing this is as a time to make big changes to their enterprises and are now looking to the future with some optimism. But do farmers generally believe the government is supporting them enough? Probably not.
3 How do you feel about the opportunities presented by the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI)?
There have been issues with its rollout, but farmers are certainly more positive about it than they were in 2022 and the first half of 2023. The latest iteration offers a lot more flexibility and is less restrictive, so applicants can take a pick-and-mix approach allowing it to fit in with their systems. It has options which fit well with mixed farming systems, although it would be good to see some additional ones for grassland in the scheme’s next iteration. In itself, it’s not going to fill the hole left by disappearing BPS payments, though.
4 What traits do thriving farm businesses have in common?
I’m seeing a real fascination with the soil among many of the successful arable farmers I work with. They see it as their most important asset and know that understanding and looking after the soil will help them achieve their agronomic and environmental ambitions. High-performing farmers also tend to be open-minded and prepared to adapt, but make evidence-based decisions using science and data.
5 What’s the best bit of business advice you’ve ever heard?
Live as if you’re going to die tomorrow, but farm as if you’re going to live forever.
6 Which aspects of paperwork and form-filling do farmers currently find most challenging?
The Environment Agency is looking at nutrient management plans far more closely than ever before, so this is just one of the many pieces of paperwork that farmers have to get right. Whether it’s soil testing, understanding the principle of ‘crop need’ or monitoring phosphate levels, farmers face more rules and regulations than ever and the challenges that brings can be huge. In livestock areas, the Farming Rules for Water regulations are currently causing livestock farmers in particular some worries.
7 What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy visiting farmers. Agriculture is such a special industry and I love listening to them talk about their business and their enterprises. I’m also in the privileged position of being able to employ people – often young people from the locality – and it’s hugely satisfying to see them develop professionally and personally. To be a good manager you have to really care about your staff and be kind to them, in tandem with setting them challenging goals. We give a lot of thought to our company culture at CXCS – and the fact that we’ve got such a low staff turnover suggests we’re on the right track!
8 Where’s your favourite spot in the Herefordshire countryside?
I live at Breinton, so never miss an opportunity to walk the dog along the Wye. I enjoy wild swimming and canoeing on the river, too. Herefordshire’s a beautiful county – and just across the border into Wales there’s the wonderful Hay Bluff which I love climbing.
Find out more about CXCS by visiting the website, calling 01981 590514 or emailing email@example.com