There is a quote attributed to Donald Rumsfeld, ex-USA Secretary of Defence, in which he states the following:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we don’t know we don’t know”.
In light of upcoming political activities at the end of this month, when considering the future for the farming industry of continued grant and subsidy support, it is worth revisiting this comment above, and taking into account the reality of what we might be faced with post-Brexit.
We know that if the UK leaves with a deal, then we have a period until the end of 2020 when we are in transition, but the positive is that any rural development programme grant agreement signed up to before 31st December 2020 will be committed to for its lifetime by the UK government. This is a known known.
Without a deal, from April 2019 onwards we might be faced with further political turmoil and uncertainty at a time when farming and food, especially for trade, needs solid ground and a commitment to quality standards and import practices. But making plans for this until it happens is not possible. And even though the UK government has committed to the same level of direct subsidy support until 2022 this could be upturned if a new general election happens before this point, or even if the mood of government policy shifts, at which stage we do not what might play out. These are known unknowns.
However, when considering what a domestic agricultural policy might mean for productivity, the trade landscape post-Brexit and freedom of movement conditions for people, goods and services, and the future relationship between conservation and cultivation, everyone is just guessing. And these are our unknown unknowns.
The reality of what is available now and what might be on offer in 10 years’ time is very stark. Those businesses who continue to focus on the same objectives and strategies as the past 10 years will very quickly find themselves falling behind. Even treading water and standing still in relative terms will not be sufficient. Adaptive change is needed, with positive mindsets and proactive decision making.
Since the Brexit vote in 2016, there have already been 3 years that have passed to get your (farm)house in order, more than enough time to make decent strategic plans and refine them as time passes. But simply planning to make a plan and nothing more is not in itself a plan. And there are too many businesses adopting the ostrich mindset of ignoring the change around them and sticking to the same old principles (and heads in the sand).
To be blunt, get focused now, not in another 18 months or in 3 years. There is still time to be proactive towards change and stay ahead of the competition, to be innovative and to be collaborative towards elements of risk and of profit improvement strategies. Set objectives, monitor against them, refine, refresh and set new targets. The viability of your business depends on your ability to be flexible and to be focused.
Taking action now will pay tenfold dividends over taking action when it is too late, when reactive change is forced upon you, and when panic sets in. The landscape of the next decade is about innovation, efficiency and sustainability. It’s up to you whether you’re ahead of the pack, or whether you’re content to follow the crowd and let business assets and profits diminish unnecessarily.