FARMERS face a tough time ahead as uncertainty abounds in the wake of the Brexit vote, but they must improve their own profitability and efficiency in order to survive. 
That was the message from Barclays national agricultural strategy director, Oliver McEntyre, at a 'Feeding for efficiency post-Brexit' meeting hosted by Harbro at Templehall Farm, East Lothian. 
Mr McEntyre stressed the need to look at profit margins, not yields, in order to improve profitability, as the top 25% of livestock grazing farms earned £36,991 more than the average farm in 2014/2015, equating to £257 or 137% more per hectare. 
Similarly, the top 25% of arable farms earned £66,684 more than the average farm in 2015/2016, equal to £268 or 151% per hectare.
While increasing scale and efficiency is seen as a solution to improve profitability, larger farm units are not the answer, according to Mr McEntyre.
"Some say the only way forward is large units or contract farming, but I don't see that," said Mr McEntyre when asked about the future of family farms. 
"I think we'll split in to three sectors – the very large units for focussed food production, the middle-sized units which will tick along with mixed profitability, and the smallest units which will need to look at diversification. 
"But there will always be a future for smaller, family-run farms in remote areas and particularly in areas of Scotland," he added.
Looking ahead to new farm subsidies after the Brexit deal, and Mr McEntyre brought up the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals launched in September, 2015. These aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity in the next 15 years, and agriculture has an impact on at least 10 of the stated goals. Overall, the UK ranks 15th out of the 34 countries and places in the top third for 11 of the indicators, but sits in 27th place on goal two which calls for improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture. This is due to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus use, and Mr McEntyre said it is "undoubtable" that future farm subsidies will be dependent on those UN goals. 
Mr McEntyre also highlighted Barclays' lending ethos, as UK bank lending figures issued by the Bank of England in June of this year indicate debt, or bank loans, increased by 3.2%, but there was a 6.4% increase in lending from Barclays alone. 
He said banks lend on the basis of the acronym CAMPARI – character, ability management, purpose, amount, repayments and insurance. While the latter four points are critical in lending, the first three are all about the person running the business and around 80% of lending decisions are based on these. 
"My advice to anybody wanting to get a farm on their own right is to go out and get a pile of experience, both practical and financial management, and to start off small with a view to building up."