18 October 2018

Adapt Improvise and Overcome!

George Jessel, DL Director Rural PLC (Kent) Resources and Politics

This famous phrase was a frequent cry during my army days and I believe now suits the current situation that we farmers face.

Ever since Brexit was announced, food producers in the UK have been thrown into a state of turmoil as food production is a slow-moving vehicle that requires a long-term plan to ensure a healthy economy.

DEFRA have launched a consultation called ‘health and harmony’ to which everybody including environmental groups, trade organisations etc. have been asked for their input and this will make up the basis for the new Agricultural Bill that Michael Gove has now said will be published at the end of July 2018.  (So, we are now all aware that DEFRA officials burn the midnight oil). Will this bill solve everything?

In my opinion it’s a big ask, as it has taken us 40 years to set up trading agreements, relationships and friendships with our European partners and with producer groups further afield and this can not be un-done and re-hashed within two years. Also UK farmers who are already locked into environmental schemes will have to have these un-picked and will they go back in if the money is not there?  It is important that the Government maintain support payments for farmers, otherwise the level playing field will become an enormous uphill struggle as they have to compete on the world market for new business.

The environment now plays an important part in every-day farming. And I believe that being part of the European family has benefited the environmental picture within the UK.  There is no doubt that the DEFRA secretary is keen to pursue environmental payments instead of direct payments that farmers have been receiving.  However, will this conflict with the farming view that land is for food production which may well become more difficult when we have to stand on our own two feet in a modern world, where chlorinated chicken and hormone fed park circle our borders?

Are supermarkets the farmers friend?  The proposed merger between Sainsburys and ASDA could yet again be another nail in the coffin for locally produced food having a wider audience.  Supermarkets are run by shareholders who expect a return on their money and are not driven by the love of a locally produced sausage or raspberry. 

So that brings me on to food safety.  In my view the Government blow hot and cold about this subject.  On the one hand they are determined that we should have access to food produced as cheaply as possible but on the other hand people are concerned about where their food is from, and what is has been sprayed with or injected with, or the conditions in which it was raised.  So, the adage is the more you pay for food the more added security will come with it.  Another important factor is where ever possible to shop locally and have a better understanding of the provenance of the food you purchase.

So, the conclusion is I believe that farmers have got to get used to adapting and improvising their businesses so they can overcome whatever the politicians throw at us whether we get a hard, green or no deal Brexit!