Reinforcing the crucial role of farming to politicians has not always been an easy task, especially for those with predominantly urban constituencies. The coronavirus pandemic has, however, forced many with with only a fleeting interest in agriculture to re-engage with the industry and the vital work farmers do in feeding the nation.
There can be no doubt that farming’s political stock is at unusually high levels as, with supply chains creaking, it finally dawned on many in power exactly who was putting food on people’s plates. And yet, as the Agriculture Bill returns to Parliament this week, the longer term threats to all parts of UK farming have not disappeared.
Without safeguards in the Bill which rule out British produce being undercut by substandard imports, there is a very real challenge for the industry to unite against. And with Brexit rumbling on in the background and former Defra Secretary Michael Gove alarmingly not ruling out some form of tariff regime, there is a double threat to farm production and also trade.
This week’s confirmation by current incumbent of the Defra hotseat, George Eustice, that there will be no delay to the phased withdrawal of direct payments from next year will also come as a blow. Given the turmoil 2020 has wrought to the industry and wider economy, it would have been prudent to see common sense prevail and for a delay to be implemented.
But it also points to a greater challenge agriculture will have in the coming years. And that is, while there is no doubting the fundamental importance of farming to the nation, the challenge will be trying to prise money from the Treasury as it seeks to patch up an economy which has been decimated by Covid-19.
And then there is the re-emerging challenge of combatting the rhetoric from the green lobby as its messaging, often of environment over food production, starts to resurface following an enforced coronavirus slumber.
Farming, yet again, finds itself at a tipping point.