To say that UK farming is at a crossroads is an understatement. Food security, the rural economy and environmental management could all change beyond recognition after Brexit when the UK's relationship with the Common Agricultural Policy ends.
The challenge is this: can farmers, environmentalists, policy makers and new Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom work together to create a domestic policy that is more efficient, better tailored, provides better bang for the taxpayer's buck, and delivers better outcomes for the environment?
In voting for Brexit, the country has created a unique opportunity to establish a new, world-leading UK Food, Farming and Environmental policy. I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge, but Government, farmers and other land managers must together grasp the new freedom to make improvements where they are needed while building on the positives from decades of investment and effort. And all this in the context of a Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that has seen budgets stripped back again and again.
Defra will need to play a very active role in Brexit negotiations, assume responsibilities repatriated from the European Commission, and then lead vital trade relationships worldwide in a Brave New World. With a considerably expanded role, the department needs to grow in resources and expertise, and fast. It will also need to take best advantage of the exceptional bank of knowledge and experience of the farmers, land managers and environmentalists up and down the country, not least on how to succeed and better the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The CAP is cumbersome and unwieldy, but support through the policy provides vital economic, environmental and social benefits. It currently underpins at least 350,000 rural jobs in England and Wales alone, as well as enabling stewardship that improves the environment and protects wildlife.
It would be disastrous for our agricultural sector, the environment and the rural economy as a whole - and for anyone who values our countryside - if we were to lose momentum post Brexit.
Farmers and landowners want to provide the country with a safe, secure supply of food, continue improving biodiversity, help tackle climate change and manage the UK's distinctive landscapes for this generation and for those to come.
We are calling on the new Defra Secretary to make an early commitment that the Government will establish the new Food, Farming and Environmental policy that this vision depends upon. Long before there was an EU, there was an acceptance that agriculture and land management require specific support. As the UK exits the EU, those needs are as relevant as ever.
There are six fundamental principles on which this new Food, Farming and Environmental Policy should be based:
- A productive, competitive farming and forestry sector: the policy must enable UK farmers to be competitive on domestic and international markets, with a renewed recognition as the nation's primary food suppliers
- Food security: the policy must promote innovative, sustainable ways to increase production and manage risk
- Enhancing the environment: the policy must be more ambitious than its predecessors in meeting environmental challenges
- A dedicated UK budget: Government must provide sufficient funds for the policy across the whole of the UK and take a long term approach
- Value for Money: the policy must deliver value for money in the way it is implemented and in the outcomes it delivers to the benefit of everyone
- Clear, proportionate regulation: the standards that must be met should be clear, with guidance for businesses to achieve compliance.