Newspaper headlines are presently chock-full of business news declaring a ‘perfect storm’ brought about by Covid-19 and global warming, with the added uncertainty in the UK of a ‘looming Brexit meltdown’.
For Gareth Davies, CEO of five-year-old Cambridge-based data and technology company, Yagro Ltd. – a company with the ambition of making farms more profitable - media histrionics is something which should be deconstructed with cool analysis.
“In our core market of commodity crop farming, Covid-19 is passing relatively unnoticed – this year’s poor weather has been a much greater cause for concern. As for YAGRO, we’re all about technology so we are used to working remotely, while government funding makes us more resilient to any toughness in the economic climate,” says Gareth.
With regard to climate change, Gareth provides an equally rational response, acknowledging that adaptation options developed by farmers focused on local conditions are long established, and are constantly improving as scientists and farmers move forward together.
Where the UK has historically relied on its temperate climate for high yielding crop production, the last years have presented real challenges to farmers. Periods of sustained localised drought and floods challenge the traditional crop choices for the UK, where wheat production is the main value driver. I see this as the most pressing issue which UK farmers must adapt to. And this will require a very dynamic and rational examination of evolving conditions, and a willingness to take risks on new crops, technology, and approaches. We hope to play a pivotal role for farm businesses, to understand these changes.
He dispatches Brexit, the bogeyman issue of the past five years, with an even greater efficiency, acknowledging that while the future of subsidies are yet to be resolved, being freed from the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) will enable farmers to “make tough decisions” and become more efficient. “Our customers are already producing for a competitive global commodity market”, he explains.
Brexit’s quite possibly abrupt finale characterises what farming is all about for the 35-year-old who, by way of a Master of Chemistry degree at Oxford, an MBA at London Business School, and several years spent working in business strategy before joining world-leading agribusiness, Syngenta, caught the agriculture bug, “loving the complexity of it all”.
“At YAGRO we see farming as a business as opposed to a lifestyle pursuit or a hobbyist’s passion.” Set within the context of Brexit, whether it eventually proves to be a managed departure or a rupture, Gareth holds that British produce will uphold its reputation for high standards, and farmers should welcome the competition from low-cost producers. He points to countries like New Zealand where the abolition of subsidies in 1984 helped to catalyse innovation and diversification in the agricultural sector.
YAGRO’s latest product, YAGRO Analytics™, which aggregates on-farm business data into a simple online tool, giving the farm manager incredible detail and insight into a farm’s current and historical performance, has been developed to further support efficiencies and competitiveness.
Reflecting on the wealth of data in the agricultural sector, Gareth says that it can be hard to know what data to focus on, and the best way of recording and calculating it.
“It is tough for UK for farmers to obtain clear, independent advice and insight on how to use what for many is an overabundance of information. We recognise that farmers want a simple presentation of straightforward, actionable information,” he says.
“For a very long time, UK farmers have been pulling their hair out trying to get their business data together in a sensible way. Without it, it’s nearly impossible to know where you stand, and how to improve. YAGRO Analytics provides the answer.”
YAGRO Analytics solves the information glut by effortlessly ingesting and processing data on variable costs yields, to produce cost of production figures across crops, varieties, and down to individual fields. Behind all this sits detailed analysis on prices, rates, and products – even analysing the quantity of active ingredients applied per field.
Speaking of his time at LBS, and the influence it has had on the development of YAGRO, Gareth says that it helped refine his ability to come into any industry, understand it, grasp the operating levers and make a positive impact using practical analytical frameworks.
Looking ahead to the future of farming, Gareth believes that consumers want a professional agriculture sector that delivers value for money, while protecting the environment, and wherever possible supporting home-produced produce.
“For us it’s all about giving the farm manager that confident decision-making ability, as well as helping sharpen the edge for their businesses, whatever conditions they might face.”