CHANGING TIMES: Duncan Peake, Raby Estates chief executive
CHANGING TIMES: Duncan Peake, Raby Estates chief executive

DALE businesses have been urged to be more forward-looking and find new areas of collaboration to tackle the challenges posed by Britain’s exit from the European Union and an imminent new bill on agriculture.

Raby Estates chief executive Duncan Peake was speaking at Teesdale Business Awards when he described how future change and challenges also present new opportunities.

While the full details of the first agricultural bill to be passed by parliament in 70 years have yet to be revealed, Mr Peake said farm businesses needed to be prepared.

He warned: “The common agriculture policy (CAP) has in many cases been the only driver on farm investment in recent years. Without CAP the consequences for farm viability and improved performance will be bleak and we must look at new ways and forms of collaboration to drive investment in skills and capital.

“Like it or not, food production in the countryside is not the priority of society as it once was. We now live in a world where the countryside must deliver a range of public goods, such as carbon storage, flood risk management, landscape protection, biodiversity, tourism and access.”

He told how one estate has already commissioned legal opinion to look at establishing co-operative contract agreements with its tenants to form limited liability partnerships.

He added: “At Raby we have not yet gone that far, but we are looking to speculate a little more and take on more risk by extending our in-hand farming operations, share-farming and contract farming arrangements where those opportunities arise.”

He also described how Raby Estates was changing from being traditional and inward-looking to encouraging new ideas and innovation.

Mr Peake said: “The principal agent for change at Raby has been our business plan. All staff across the estate participated in the process and we now review the plan with our staff on a yearly basis. It is this bottom up approach that has given everyone a sense of ownership and it also given the business plan a degree of credibility.”

He warned any businesses not relevant to society are doomed.

“The expectations of our traditional customers – tenants – is also changing. They demand, quite rightly, a better standard of housing or commercial premises, better connectivity in terms of broadband and mobile phone signal. We must anticipate these needs if we are to prosper, and not just because Brexit farm subsidies are taking us in that direction anyway.”

Mr Peake also admitted Raby Estates had to change the way it is perceived.

He said: “Too often we are seen by those who don’t understand us as privileged, detached and unapproachable. We need to challenge these perceptions and present our business in a different way. In future Raby must engage more effectively with the communities in Teesdale, better understand the demographics, we must have honest conversations about how we are perceived, and we must listen to the current and future needs of those communities.”

As for how Raby Estates is changing its business model, Mr Peake concluded: “Forward thinking businesses in my own sector are now looking more closely at delivering products and services around locally-sourced food, business space, secure drop off points, electric car charging, leisure and recreational experiences. Instead of service charges, they are looking at charging for services.”