Last week, we had the huge pleasure of welcoming Andrew Meredith, the Editor of Farmers Weekly as our guest speaker at the Thames Valley Branch of the Institute of Agricultural Management. This was held at the well-appointed Mapledurham Golf Club, just outside of Reading.
Andrew talked across a whole range of subjects to a well attended meeting and some of the most pertinent points to me he touched on, seemed to include:
- UK and international farming is going through a period of huge uncertainty and issues such as food security and self sufficiency (Andrew pointed out that these are not the same) are going to be big discussion areas going forward
- UK farmers do not seem to have “the clout” when dealing with government, respect and influence that they might have had and enjoyed in the past. When it comes to influencing government policy, the NFU is a relatively small organisation when it comes to this vis a vis others, such as the RSPCA, the RSPB and National Trust. For farmers to be able to influence government policy at all, they need to be aligned to other interests such as health issues, diet, the consumer etc. The farming community do not often hold sway in the key swing seats come election time and farmers do not probably vote on just farming based issues either
- in the 1970s and 80s, we went through the so called Green Revolution and saw a time of consolidation, profitability and increased productivity and year on year improvements in yields, and an increasingly technical focus towards farming
- in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, we then saw the rise of the Green Agenda and farming began to acquire a less favourable reputation, as the EU got involved in over production and produced an adverse impact on global trade and the environment. This was then followed by outbreaks of FMD and BSE and the failure of the benefits of GM crops in being “sold” to the UK consumer
- since then, the dominant issues in UK farming have revolved around the introduction of IT, the use of agri tech, climate change and now the impact of Brexit, COVID and the impact of the war in the Ukraine
- the UK Agricultural Bill post Brexit has been all about the government “buying” change for farming, in terms of the provision of public goods or public money, as opposed to “food production”. The Agricultural Bill does however allow the UK government to intervene in markets in exceptional circumstances, but the detail on how, when and why this might happen is very light
- food production and good environmental policy should, of course, be totally compatible at a practical level, until you get to government policy, where there seems little or no appetite to change the emphasis back to food production over the provision of public goods and services
- food safety is going to be a key focus going forward. The danger of the cost of living crisis is that some in the supply chain might be tempted to cut corners in termsd of due diligence and labelling – witness the recent problems with the supply of meat to Booths in the north of England
- farmers should take up, in the short to medium term, all the available grants and other help to change the nature of their farms, as in the future it is likely that there will be more environmental regulation and more use of “the stick as opposed to carrot” by government agencies to enforce this
- there is unlikely to be any significant unpicking of government policy in the areas of agriculture in the devolved nations of the UK. When it comes to issues such as GM, Scotland and others will align themselves as far as possible to EU policy, but in England, there is a strong desire to be seen as being different and to show some sort of Brexit dividend
This was a great event. It was well attended (over 30 of us in total), with a very engaging and well informed speaker. We could have gone on a lot longer – normally the sign of a good time being had by all. Thanks to Andrew for joining us and those members who attended too. All in all - a very enjoyable and informative evening.