3 Self-Employed Challenges for the Agricultural Industry

By Jake Martin

5 min read

“I like the independence of working for ourselves, I like not having to be fixed to having to go to work at 9 o’clock. Those hours, I work the hours I choose to work, or I work round what suits me. I think I’d find that very difficult to go back to now, [a] rigid working timetable,” said Cecilia Butler, the wife of a Lincolnshire dairy farmer.

As many other testimonies throughout the Health and Safety Executive’s study reveals, Cecilia is not alone in her sentiments—farmers are fiercely proud to be self-employed. But with their hard earned independence come many concerns that affect them on a daily basis: Where does my income originate from? What do I do when I need a sick day? What benefits am I owed?

If you’ve ever asked these questions, or if you need advice on navigating your taxes as a sole trader, then QuickBooks Self-Employed wants to help.

All information in this article, unless otherwise sourced, originates from the aforementioned study and Oxfam’s invaluable report compiled by UTASS and Rose Regeneration,

1. Income

Where their livelihood is coming from is a constant source of heartache for many farmers across the UK. In 2010, the Commission for Rural Communities found that one in every four farming families lived below the poverty line.

You rely on your Single Farm Payment to make ends meet, but when that payment is late or unexpected expenses crop up, what do you do? Well, different people came up with a variety of different strategies, and here’s some of their advice to keep your farm afloat:

  • Generate income off-farm: A recent study by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs found that only 70% of the average household’s income came from farm business income, with most of the remainder coming from off-farm sources. In fact, 92% of principal farmer households held a source of off-farm income.
  • Prioritise bills: You depend on your Single Farm Payment for your livelihood. When times are tough, or your payment is late, be open and honest about your challenges and pay the most important costs first.
  • Forego luxuries: Sometimes, making ends meet might be as straightforward as living simply for a little while. Postpone that trip, be satisfied without the latest car models, and try not to be tempted every time Apple releases a new iPhone.
  • Family: Some people recommended asking family members for loans, but because money can be a major divisive issue, you will want to think carefully before going down this route. Instead, consider asking family and close friends to physically help you around the farm, if only temporarily.
  • Arrange an overdraft: Be cautious in this approach, and don’t borrow beyond your means. Bank loans can be great in a pinch, but if you don’t expect to be able to reasonably pay it back, this option may be more of a risk than an opportunity.

Also, whenever possible, invest in pension plans and set some of your income aside for a rainy day. Making a cash flow forecast for yourself will help you when times are lean. And, while small loans can certainly ease the burden, try not to rely on the trap of banks overeager to lend you money, which you’ll later struggle to repay.

2. Stress and sickness

“If [farmers] have a bad back or neck, if it’s stopping them from working, they come and see us. Mental health is different,” said one medical practitioner. “They don’t see you if they can avoid it, they think they should pull themselves together. There’s depression and anxiety. Generally, up here, patients are getting less access to services.”

There are many stressful self-employed challenges associated with the farming profession. While it’s difficult to prescribe a quick fix that covers all issues affecting well-being, there are many avenues for support available. Some valuable resources include:

  • Family
  • Local networks and community
  • Marketplaces, where you can network and possibly seek advice from other people in the trade who may have experienced similar hardships.
  • Formal support groups, such as DEFRA and ADAS, which can help you work through confusing paperwork, or RABI, which works to help farmers out of crises.

When you’re injured or unable to work due to illness, don’t let yourself be shortchanged. Even with self-employment challenges, you still have benefits: you might be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), for example.

For more information, such as eligibility and how to claim, visit the government’s guide on farm health and safety and check out their details on agricultural sick pay.

3. Claiming your benefits

One major problem faced by self-employed farmers is that they primarily rely upon two income payments—their Single Farm Payment and livestock sales—and falsely believe that this excludes them from the benefits afforded to employees.

“Farmers tend to keep their problems to themselves and are reluctant to come and see me. They have a sense of pride. Single farmers with no other non-farming income face particular self-employed challenges… It’s harder for farmers to claim benefits up here as they are self-employed,” a representative from the Citizens Advice Bureau revealed.

“I only ask farmers for the minimum amount of financial information I need to work out if they are entitled to benefits, normally their pre-tax profit for tax credits.”

Practically, this reluctance to disclose personal information has resulted in many farmers losing out on benefits to which they are fully entitled. For example, you might qualify for Attendance Allowance if you care for elderly relatives.

Most farmers know that they, like all UK residents, can claim State Benefit assistance. The difficulty lies in a lack of follow-up information, such as which benefits they qualify for, how payments are made, and how to make claims.

If you’re confused by the process or if you find the prospect of paperwork daunting, you’re not alone. Know that QuickBooks Self-Employed wants to ease your pain points, by offering you a simple solution for filing your tax claims.

We’ve also compiled some resources to help you understand your rights when tackling self-employed challenges :

  • The simplest and most effective step in understanding which benefits you’re eligible for is to visit the Citizens Advice Bureau. They also have a useful benefits guide, if you prefer to do the research yourself.
  • The government’s website offers a benefits calculator, which will help you determine exactly what you’re eligible for. Their site also details numerous Agricultural workers’ rights, including information on minimum rates of pay, sick pay, and holiday pay.
  • If you’re still not sure, try casting a line out to the farming community. The Farming Forum and Farmers Weekly are two examples of forum communities where like-minded individuals can seek out information on a variety of topics, including advice on where to find out more about which benefits you’re due.
Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

Related Articles

Earning more and working less: the rise of the ‘Silver Self-employed’

Earning more and working less: the rise of the ‘Silver Self-employed’Earning more…

Read more

The Challenges of Self-Employment: Finding Work

Finding work might be one of the greatest challenges you face as…

Read more