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When it comes to agriculture, no two regions of the UK are the same. It’s a richly diverse sector shaped by the local environment, which is why we continue to maintain a strong regional presence, working closely with our broker partners to understand their rural client’s motor insurance needs.

Here, Graeme Sutherland, Regional Trading Underwriter for Scotland and Northern Ireland, shares his thoughts on the market trends, opportunities and challenges within his region and where he believes brokers can thrive in 2022 and beyond.

What sort of farms and agri businesses do you typically encounter?

I get to experience the full gamut of farms – dairy, arable, sheep, fruit and beef – and a diverse range of rural businesses, from garden centres and landscapers to agricultural contractors and other trades closely linked to the sector, such as fencing contractors and smallholders.

What service do you provide brokers?

We work with pretty much every Scottish agri motor broker as well as a select panel of Northern Irish brokers, so we’re well-known across both regions. Our reputation depends on our ability to maintain trusted relationships and deliver sharp turnaround times on both new business and renewals.

I also try and add value by offering a personal service to every broker I work with, Working in partnership with the broker to understand the unique needs of their customers to ensure I provide a tailored A+rated quote that’s right for them. It’s an incredibly rewarding role. The only difficulty is finding the time to do everything I want to in the working day!

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing agri customers today?

While the sector was largely able to operate as normal throughout the pandemic, the drop in government subsidies, combined with tightening profit margins, and a scarcity of farm labour, are making life difficult for customers.

Demand for locally-produced food is on the rise, given the ongoing disruption to global supply chains, which creates both opportunity and difficulty for farms – especially as customers expect this food to be high quality. It will be interesting to see how farms set about meeting the challenge over the remainder of the year, given that their operating costs are also rising fast.

Another challenge in Scotland and Northern Ireland particularly is the cost of updating environmentally unfriendly farm machinery. Farming vehicles and equipment are becoming more expensive.

That said, in the long run, I expect to see electric tractors becoming more common on smaller farms, with farmers looking to lower their running costs and boost the overall sustainability of their operations.

To what extent is diversification happening in local agri businesses?

The main two examples I’m seeing in Scotland and Northern Ireland are farms converting unused buildings into B&B businesses, and customers expanding into offering contracting services. We’re happy to cover these diversified risks, although it’s important that customers make us aware of any changes they’re implementing, even if their vehicles and machinery don’t appear to be directly impacted by the diversification.

Sum up the current state of the insurance market in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

After a few turbulent years, the regional market is settling back to a more level playing field, with fewer insurers available to brokers. We continue to hold a high percentage of the wallet share of the available business with our broker partners, and our priority is continuing to help them serve their every customer need in what looks likely to be a challenging year for agri businesses.

What do you see as the biggest growth opportunity for brokers in the region?

Agriculture in Scotland and Northern Ireland is built around close-knit communities. There’s an untapped opportunity for brokers to grow their regional presence via their existing customers – tapping into these local networks to establish relationships with other farms and businesses.

Of course, farmers and rural business owners live hectic lives. They don’t spend much time sat at a desk, and if they’re broadly happy with the service being provided to them, they’re unlikely to waste time looking around for a different broker. So retention of existing customers should always be the top priority for our brokers.

Finally, why does ERS stand out as an attractive partner to brokers?

We’re UK-based and motor-only, and we’ve been serving the agri sector for decades with our combination of A+ rated products and specialist underwriters. For brokers, I think ERS stands out for the quality of its manual underwriting – carried out by people who truly understand agriculture – and our consistently high service levels.

Building long term relationships with brokers is vital to our business. It’s a partnership, and by continuing to develop our regional knowledge and insight, we can be more informed and quicker with our responses to ensure we’re offering the right level of cover for the individual risk.

Looking for Agriculture or rural business cover in Scotland or Northern Ireland?

Connect with Graeme on LinkedIn here

Discover more about our ERS agriculture motor products here

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