New breed of agricultural claims requires hands-on knowledge of modern farming
The UK farming industry has changed massively in the last 20 years. Driven by changes in consumer demand, retailers have squeezed the market for lower prices, and for many products, the ‘farmgate price’ is now actually less than the cost of production. Some farms have expanded or merged in order to remain commercially viable, while others have diversified into other markets or rural industries. However, many have simply sold up and left the industry altogether and according to government figures, the number of UK dairy cows has fallen by 27% since 1996.
Many farmers, particularly smaller operators, have become increasingly dependent on subsidies provided through the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy to survive. Concern around the implications of Brexit, and how the government will replace the £3bn the UK receives every year through the CAP, is doing little to encourage the smaller farms that remain.
As a result, we are left with fewer numbers of larger commercial farming and rural enterprises that, in order to remain profitable, are turning more and more to niche production and/or bulk processing and automation. This tends to involve the use of increasingly technical agricultural processes and equipment, which presents a wider and more complex range of risks to the insurance market. Managing those changing risks and responding to the ‘new breed’ of resulting claims requires real hands-on knowledge and experience of modern farming – something that’s in short supply in this specialised area of the insurance market.
So what’s happened to all the farmers who are moving away from agriculture? And why can’t we tempt them into the insurance industry? How do we encourage the next generation of agricultural specialists to join our business?
We’ve got one of the UK’s largest agricultural loss adjusting teams and yet recruitment and succession planning is a challenge. Most of our Agriculture & Rural Network adjusters have agri-related qualifications or genuine farming experience, others have gained their expertise ‘on the job’ but this takes time. Many of these adjusters are now entering the latter stages of their adjusting careers and their successors are not easy to find.
Traditionally, farming has always been a generational business, with son or daughter growing up on the family farm and gaining the sort of coal face experience that’s of real value to rural insurers and loss adjusters. But as they come of age and their parents get older, expectations are that they will take on more responsibility on the farm. This secures the future of the family business and of the individual concerned. With farming in decline, this cycle is being broken and we need to take advantage of the skills and knowledge that are becoming available before other employers do.
We’ve previously recruited graduates with agricultural or land management qualifications and through work placements, exam study and a tailored training and support programme, they’ve developed into very proficient and self-sufficient ARN adjusters. However, five years on, none of these adjusters are still with the business, with one of them having to return to run the family farm when their father fell ill.
So what is the answer? Keep trying the graduate route? Develop closer ties with local agricultural colleges? Holiday-time internships? Targeted recruitment in rural publications? Probably all of the above, to greater or lesser extents. But the best thing we can do is to promote our profession as a genuinely interesting and rewarding option to the vocation that they know and love. It’s a career that would enable them to help the rural communities that they are so much a part of – by putting lives and farming businesses back together after disaster strikes.