Successive governments have failed to recognise the fundamentally crucial part played by the rural sector industries – most specifically agriculture and production horticulture. The new Government must position farming and food at the very top of its agenda. Rural PLC (Kent) was founded in 2011 on the commitment to create a voice and a platform for Kent’s food and farming sectors in recognition of the fact that both have the strength and scale to deliver more in economic and social terms. Despite UK farmers’ contributions to the economy recording substantial growth – and farm output delivering simultaneous growth – Rural PLC (Kent) recognises that misunderstandings, misconceptions, unhelpful legislation and unwieldy administrative burdens – most especially in farming and related industries – impede investment. Since its launch in 2011 Rural PLC (Kent) has lobbied for a more conducive regulatory environment that encourages investment in skills, research and development and also provides more realistic assistance for farm expansion and diversification. By working cohesively, the intention is to grow, multiply and capitalise opportunities in the rural business sector.
Rural PLC (Kent) recognises that candidates representing all parties need – wish – to be informed and advised about the rural sector industries.
The Government formed in May this year will face huge national challenges related to deficit reduction, the NHS, education and other public services, pensions and social security, defence and public order.
At the same time the new Government must not fail to factor in the increasing challenges associated with climate change, population growth and food security. Post the Second World War, successive governments have assumed that we can continue to import food, thus selfsufficiency has not been an issue. This is an unsafe assumption for two main reasons; already climate change is resulting in disruptions to production systems in many parts of the world and, secondly, it does not take into account the effects of global population growth and rising per capita consumption.
Farmers and growers are being challenged to produce more food using fewer resources with less dependency on oil. At the same time, as principal stewards of wildlife and the environment, farmers make inestimable contributions to human health, well-being and way-of-life. This vital, volatile combination reinforces the supreme importance of farming.
The picture in regard to food sourcing, distribution and usage is complex. Imports aligned to an advanced food chain enable UK consumers to have access to whatever they want at virtually all times of the year. Statistics produced by DEFRA (published April 2014) indicate that, in 2012, 24 countries accounted for 90% of UK food supply with just over half being supplied domestically from within the UK. DEFRA estimates that UK food and drink waste is around 15 million tonnes per year; overall 15% of edible food and drink are wasted at an estimated cost of £480 per year for an average household. At the same time, obesity is on the increase in both adults and children thus putting additional strain on the NHS and other services.
The ‘Food Chain’ or ‘Supply Chain’ as currently presented fails to take proper account of the most fundamental and vital part of the chain; the farmers who produce the food.
Call to Action
The new Government’s first unforgivable mistake would be failure to recognize the importance of the rural industries and the essential contributions made in economic and social terms.
Without comprehensive understanding of the farming industry – specifically agriculture and production horticulture – the new Government will be unable to create the environment that will allow UK farmers to produce optimum performance. There must be a determination to achieve this understanding.
Legislation that benefits urban areas often disadvantages – and locks potential- in rural and semi-rural areas. The new Government must prioritize recognition of differing needs and introduce sustainable legislation that takes full account of the differences.
Industry and inward investment are fundamental to maximizing the potential of farm businesses and the support services. The new government must remove hindrances to investment and implement incentives. The new Government must take far greater account of regional and local differences and remove barriers that impact on rural industries.
The new Government must comprehensively review the obstacles that currently beset farming and hinder development. The National Farmers’ Union estimates the cost of regulation currently represents approximately onetenth of the net profit of the average farm – an unwieldy and unfair burden.
The new Government must recognize urgent need to coordinate industry needs, skills levels, training and education thus removing current imbalances that result in skills shortages in some business sectors and oversupply in others.
The UK farming industry – in common with the sector globally – is tasked with increasing productivity in light of population growth whilst simultaneously adapting to the benefits and drawbacks associated with climate change. The new Government must develop objective strategies to deal with these challenges whilst recognizing that some aspects of climate change may be very abrupt and violent with little or no warning.
The new Government must recognize the importance of providing public funding for additional research whilst at the same time develop incentives that encourage private sector investment.
The new Government must encourage innovations that benefit the farming sector by providing a lucid and comprehensive framework of incentives and rewards free from gobbledygook and easy to access.
Pre-election and potential referendum, The UK’s membership of the EU is uncertain pre-election and potential referendum. The new Government will lead UK negotiations in regard to the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and it is imperative representatives are closely engaged in pursuance of reforms that will best serve the interests of British farming including the removal of the many complexities and uncertainties that beleaguer CAP.
The new Government must restructure DEFRA to achieve greater coordination and reduce capital wastage There have been too many inadequate and costly schemes that have proved unfit for purpose. DEFRA must take account of the needs of all farming businesses – whatever their size – in order to achieve consolidation.
Actions Must Not Be Delayed
Successive governments have failed to recognise the fundamentally crucial part played by the rural sector industries – most specifically agriculture and production horticulture. The new Government must position farming and food at the very top of its agenda.