Victoria Ivinson on her family farm with baby son, Wilfred

Rural business experts have warned that up to half of farmers could see their profits wiped out within three years, leaving many facing incredibly challenging times – unless they take action soon.

Under-pressure farmers are being urged to seek immediate help to weather a subsidy shake-up that’s likely to herald the start of big changes to modern farming.

With subsidy cuts at the forefront of a cash, labour and environmental triple whammy, financial specialists say that farm owners and operators cannot afford to stick their heads in the sand.

Victoria Ivinson, head of the agricultural team with tax and accountancy firm Douglas Home & Co, said: “For many farmers, these subsidy payments prop up the business.

“Our estimate is that at least 50% of farmers could see their profit wiped out. While most may break even, many will be running at a loss once the subsidies are cut. That is a horrifying prospect.

“At the moment, this money is essential to help them smooth out the challenges posed by major weather events, fluctuations in yields and grain prices and many other unpredictable variables.”

The firm’s stark assessment is based on its decades-long experience, with more than 1000 of its 3100 clients operating as rural businesses.

As part of Brexit, the Basic Payment Scheme is being phased out between 2021 and 2028, meaning farmers could lose between 50-70% of their subsidy by 2024. Deeper cuts and further changes will also continue well beyond 2024

Victoria, whose husband is a beef and sheep farmer in Penrith, Cumbria, added: “We are entering a decade of massive change across farming and the rural economy. Brexit, climate change and major labour shortages are already causing sleepless nights.

“Yet subsidy cuts are an even bigger threat to survival, particularly for those with no other income stream or alternative financial support. Frankly, some farmers are terrified.”

The accountant says many farmers are overawed by the complexity of the replacement system, which has not yet been fully fleshed out or explained by the Government. Regulations also differ slightly between Scotland and England, however all UK farmers face similar prospects.

Another common problem is that many are unaware which parts of their business are profitable and which are not. Victoria’s team of dedicated agricultural experts have drawn up a three-step plan to help farmers make the difficult decisions needed for survival.

She added: “We can help farmers to get in front of this now. By facing up to difficult questions, making proactive changes and planning ahead, they can secure their farming future. The hits will keep on coming as environmental regulations ramp up – getting fit for purpose now is essential.”

Douglas Home & Co’s seven-strong agricultural team drew up a three-step plan to be presented at two successful “Future of Farming” events alongside The Cumbria Farmer Network in Penrith and Kendal during August. More than 60 farmers attended and both events were sold out.

Step one sees Douglas Home & Co’s agricultural team helping farmers understand their numbers, like labour costs and profit and loss across different aspects of the business. This allows farmers to understand the profitability of each individual farm enterprise.

Step two involves carefully assessing ways for struggling farms to bridge the income gap. However, step three is the most crucial part, as the team can help farmers discuss how to adapt particular enterprises so they are more profitable, or can suggest proactive diversification opportunities which will broaden the number of income streams to the business.

Victoria added: “It can be challenging to change long standing farming practices, particularly for those who are passionate about traditional methods. In some cases, farmers may need to move away from old enterprises and embrace a new farming mix. However, this ability to adapt and change can help a business survive during such uncertain times.

“Starting now is vital, because this is just the tip of the iceberg. We are in the midst of a climate emergency which means more Government regulation is coming. Acting now could help farmers reduce the sting for years, if not decades to come.”

Worried farmers can sign up for an initial consultation with Victoria and her team by visiting Douglas Home & Co online or by phoning one of its eight offices.

Douglas Home & Co was founded and remains headquartered in the Scottish Borders where it has four offices, with further bases in Edinburgh, East Lothian, Cumbria and Northumberland. It has 70 staff and saw a 4% rise in turnover to £4million for the financial year 2020/21.

That keeps it on track with its ambitious business plan to occupy a market gap it has identified between smaller accountancy firms and the big four. Its ethos is to provide a more personalised service than big firms, but a more expansive range of services than smaller practices.