“If farmers can deploy innovative techniques to control these factors, it will make it much easier for them to produce a consistent product that they can then sell when they need to do so,” he said.
“The difficulty with farming as a business is the fact that there are so many uncontrollable factors. As well as variable weather, there can be considerable variations in market prices for products and inputs, such as feed and fertiliser, which are commodity-type products so that prices rise and fall depending on whether there’s a surplus or scarcity in the market.
“Vertical farming offers an attractive innovation as it allows farmers to exercise some degree of control over some of those factors. If farmers can control the atmospheric conditions to produce the optimum growing conditions, they can then produce a consistent product that can be grown and sold throughout the year.”
Cowling stressed that farmers, like all business owners, need to innovate constantly to remain effective and should constantly review their processes and inputs to yield the optimum product for the best cost.
“If innovation can introduce controls to reduce the impact of weather or market prices, it can have a significant effect on the sustainability of a business,” he said.
In addition to innovation, Cowling recommends diversification for farmers, such as hydro schemes, wind turbines, solar panels, holiday cottages and livery services and advises farmers to set aside some time to think about their businesses.
“Much of farming is labour intensive, which raises the familiar issue about spending too much time working ‘in’ the business rather than working ‘on’ the business and the need to take some time to think strategically about the business – which is often time very well spent,” he said.
“We would encourage farmers to consider diversification and innovation, such as vertical farming, as part of their longer term strategic plan, and would recommend that they ensure they have up-to-date financial information at hand before seeking professional advice on the various R&D, tax and capital investment grant opportunities available.”