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The President’s Report

Adrian Winnett

It’s difficult to begin this report without referring to the topic that continues to dominate the daily news output. When I spoke last year at the AEA annual conference and lunch, I talked of how we may have expected the long-running issue of Brexit to have been concluded by that point.

After a couple of false starts and a general election, it was almost another year, of course, before we eventually began our transitional period to full exit – and while we are now on the path to leaving the European Union, at the time of writing there is little known about how we will get there and what will happen subsequently.

Whatever your view, there is now at least a certainty about our departure, even if, at the time of writing, there remains much to be decided about exactly what will come after it. From international trade to food standards and plenty else, this is likely to impact AEA members’ business sectors. It remains to be seen exactly what will change for our members – whether importers, home-market producers, or exporters – and for those who buy from us.

As I said in my lunch speech, we do not yet know the rules by which we’ll be exporting or importing machinery – but we will all need to react quickly and positively when we do. But, of course, there are plenty of other unknowns that can challenge the agricultural, turf and outdoor power equipment sectors over the coming year, just as they did over the past one.

Few need reminding of what the weather did to our trade last season, with farmers’ 2019 harvest hit by the wet summer, and their crop establishment for the following year limited by even higher autumn and winter rainfall. To an extent, the turf and outdoor power sectors were struck by those same weather issues. Such extreme conditions can, as we all know, have a significant impact on the sales, service and parts elements of our businesses. Who knows what the weather might throw at us this year?

Then there are the continued difficulties we face right across our sectors of attracting and retaining quality staff, particularly new entrants – something we can ALL do something about. Much work has been done in the recent past by members to try to connect with those seeking career inspiration and development. But there is much still to do, particularly as we may yet see some of those who have come from other areas of Europe to fill roles here returning home, and we continue to face a challenge in recruiting good-quality school leavers.

As the third decade of the 21st century commences and the technology in our industry continues to take leaps and bounds forwards, we need more than ever to show potential staff what a challenging and fulfilling business this is. It has rewarding roles for all skill sets, from mechanical work to marketing, sales to service, electronics to IT, digital development to data analysis. Then, of course, there are the other skills and knowledge increasingly required by those in land-based engineering, from finance and business management to soil science, agronomy and livestock nutrition. We should capitalise on our sector’s central role in helping produce some of the goods most essential for human existence – food, fuel and fibre – and maintaining our landscape and our sporting facilities.

Whatever else is changing in society, we will always need these things, and it’s this which gives our industry an element of certainty matched by few other sectors. This is why I believe we have something with which we can compete for staff that the other industries cannot match. There’s no doubt, though, we need to promote these pluses to challenge the downsides that come as part and parcel of our business, such as occasionally unsociable working hours and seasonality. Whatever the uncertainties we face, it’s reassuring to know that one of the constants we have behind us is our trade body.

This year marking its 145th birthday, the AEA’s role in protecting the interests of the trades and companies it represents has never been more important. Whether your sector serves those who produce our food, manage our countryside, maintain our highways and our leisure facilities or look after their own gardens, the AEA team is constantly working to ensure you are kept informed and supported. Our councils, special interest groups and technical committees all work to keep members up to speed on policy, standards, regulation and technical issues. With the Brexit process underway, the research, lobbying and guidance these bodies bring and provide will take on added significance. As things progress, your AEA will keep you abreast of the latest developments, proposals and legislation. For all these things, we owe a debt to the hard-working team at Samuelson House, who make the AEA what it is. On that note, I wish you well for the remainder of 2020.