Country Life

Farming’s brave new world

‘It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity’

Simon Hart

ACROSS the UK, we share great pride in our countryside and our exit from the EU allows us to harness that pride in a way that we have not been able to for more than 40 years—pride not only in food production, but in land management and the people who quietly care for this unique national asset.

Nor should our attachment to rural matters be simply aesthetic. Britain is renowned for its leading role in the Industrial Revolution, but many overlook the leading role we played in the earlier agricultural equivalent.

The way we farmed and managed our land was transformed through the sheer brilliance of visionary British minds, something that is rarely mentioned when tackling today’s challenges. As my colleague George Eustice, the Defra Secretary, has recently laid out, the once-in-a-generation opportunity that we face today cannot be missed.

In a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference in November, Mr Eustice explained how we need to reinvent farming policy so that it is not only right for today’s custodians of the countryside, but for those of tomorrow. The ‘policy’ responsibility for these changes is shared by the UK Government and the devolved administrations, but the implementation required will be down to the ingenuity of farmers and land managers. It was ever thus.

The collective concern is that we introduce compatible systems that create a level playing field across the four home nations. Although some difference can be positive, untrammelled divergence post-Brexit is unlikely to end well. With this in mind, the UK Government has legislated to protect the UK internal market to keep trade flowing seamlessly between the nations. That will come as no surprise to most businesses, but it did need to be enshrined in law.

‘It will be down to the ingenuity of farmers and land managers. It was ever thus’

The biggest lever of change is the move from direct farm payments to those for sustainable farming. Most farmers I speak to, young and not

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