News | Published April 06 2020

EXCLUSIVE Agriculture and energy leaders address Covid-19: "We are faced with stagnation"

Agriculture and energy have been high on the agenda in recent years, with the push for countries to reach "net zero" a big manifesto priority. 

The two sectors are undeniably entangled: a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report predicted that around 18 per cent of "anthropogenic" greenhouse gases come from livestock -- that is, 18 per cent of all greenhouse gases generated by human activity.

The UK agriculture sector was also a major talking point in Brexit negotiations, with the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy two particular areas of discussion for both Theresa May and Boris Johnson in Brussels.

But now the world faces a totally unprecedented global situation -- one that has affected the British agriculture and energy sectors in vastly different ways.

As we have ascertained in previous sector reports, there is no "one-size-fits-all" response when it comes to how industry has dealt with Covid-19. The outbreak has affected every organisation in a completely different way, whether that's by overcomplicating daily business or eliminating its existence.

James Robert Jennings, Principal Director of sustainable food and fuel producer Avocet Infinite, said that the firm was faced with "stagnation of uncertain duration".

"Our business model is the generation of further IP in the areas of hydroponic systems for fodder, specialist cattle breeding to produce healthy beef, anaerobic digestion to produce methane (which is converted to methanol) and the production of a cetane enhancer that allows methanol to performer efficiently in a diesel engine without generating emissions," Jennings explained.

But while this sounds positive on paper -- after all, cows aren't bound by UK social distancing measures -- Jennings explained that Avocet Infinite's line of work caused some unprecedented issues when it came to Covid-19.

"The company is very asset rich, but cash poor. Our day-to-day running costs can be very problematic.

"We only employ a few people, directly or indirectly, but while that is difficult at present, it is not the major issue.

"Our biggest problem is that we sell franchises and IP to potential partners. To demonstrate the power of our technologies, we need to construct demonstration units and meet people -- clients and key, relevant businesses."

Of course, both of these endeavours are far from easy given the measures most businesses are presently faced with. But that's not the limit of Jennings' frustration.

"While this is a big problem for us in the UK, our most lucrative opportunities come from overseas.

"Of course, initial discussions can be carried out by phone or video call, but the real business can only be done face to face. This, given the suspension of flights and social distancing measures at present, is simply not possible.

"The consequence is that we are faced with a stagnation of uncertain duration before we can move forward again.

For Andrew Maskery, however, Managing Director of animal health and biosecurity distributor Andrew Maskery Associates, the problems go beyond just stagnation of business.

"We need clarity on the supply chain for farmers," Maskery told The Parliamentary Review. "At present, it's totally unclear where we stand.

"We need to know if we are designated as an 'essential' or 'key' workforce."

Maskery elaborated.

"Under welfare standards, we need to remain open and continue supplying goods for our customers in this unprecedented situation.

"But there is no clarity yet as to whether or not we are allowed to do this."

Perhaps there will be in the weeks to come, but guidance from Defra is clearly coming at too slow a rate for many organisations like both Andrew Maskery Associates and Avocet Infinite at present.

For more information, you can read Avocet Infinite and Andrew Maskery Associates' best practice Parliamentary Review articles here and here respectively.

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The Parliamentary Review

April 06 2020

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