THE mental picture of a bank manager in wellies striding across a windswept field or sitting down and talking beef, dairy or sheep production is not easily conjured up.

But it is the colourful reality for the team of specialist agricultural relationship managers at NatWest.

They have a sizeable and diverse farming community to look after across the whole of the UK, with around 2,000 clients in the South West and Wales alone.

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea in the banking world, but you have to have a passion for it,” says Jo Wingfield, agricultural relationship director in the region.

She covers the portfolio from a commercial banking perspective.

“We are all incredibly passionate about our sector and helping our farmers, many of whom face tough times and constant challenges. And we are there, on the patch for them which is absolutely vital," she said.

NatWest has developed a specialty in working with and supporting farmers.

All the relationship managers have agricultural qualifications and training in issues like climate change, a critical subject in the sector.

Andrew Woodthorpe is director of business banking, and the co-head of agriculture for the South West and Wales. He said: “Individually and collectively we have developed a huge amount of knowledge over the years.

“We have strength and depth in the sector and many face to face relationships and that is absolutely critical.”

The south west is a vast area for the bank and includes Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Wales, Shropshire, Oxford and parts of Hampshire.

There are around 30 specialist agricultural relationship managers across the patch out of a total of around 120 nationally.

Andrew said: “You can see from those figures just how important farming is to our region in terms of livelihoods and food production.

“There is also huge diversity, everything from dairy, to beef and lamb production, vegetable growing, arable. If it’s being farmed you can guarantee we have got it.”

Farming has never been the easiest of sectors, dependant as it is on many variables like the weather and price volatility in the marketplace.

This year, they have had to deal with rocketing cost of energy and diesel and the price and availability of fertiliser for example.

Jo said: “We have really encouraged our farmers to diversify in recent years. Whether that be a farm shop, getting into renewables, letting out accommodation or even setting up vending machines in their communities.

"If you will forgive the pun, it’s more important than ever not to put all your eggs in one basket.”

She said part of the job was about making dreams come true.

“The other day I helped one of our tenant farmers buy his farm and that was a fantastic feeling. After renting for 30 years, we were able to lend him the money the money to buy it," she said.

But sometimes there are more difficult conversations to be had, for example about reducing a farm’s carbon footprint, being more accountable to their customers and ensuring they are legally compliant. There is a huge amount of environmental regulation and that’s always pure cost.

Jo added: “This is not a sector where you can deal with clients through a call centre. You need people on the ground and the farmers really appreciate that support.


“Farming is pressurised and stressful, there’s constant juggling and it can be a lonely profession. Farmers may not see anyone from one week to the next unless they go to market and they don’t always know what is going on out in the wider world. Being there for them is vital.”

NatWest was the first to launch its farm support packages in 2022 and has been having in depth conversations for many months about prospects, predictions and planning for 2023 and beyond.

Both Jo and Andrew always urge farmers to have early conversations and not let problems build up.

Andrew said: “There are some big issues coming up. We are there for our farmers. The farming sector has got better at riding out storms and adapting but there is there a lot of uncertainty out there at the moment.

"We want to have those early conversations. We haven’t got all the answers but we are here to help.”