What is your 20-year farming plan, regardless of the political negotiations taking place between the UK and Europe?
This fascinating question was posed at a University of Reading Agricultural Club (URAC) conference this week at which I was a panelist alongside NFU EU exit chief Nick von Westenholz and dairy and beef farmer David Christensen, who is chairman of Arla’s UK Brexit Farmer Task Force.
Examining what farmers should be doing post-Brexit, young students and older farmers in the audience were looking for answers about what the future held for farming in an era of growing uncertainty.
The answer? Well, none of us had a crystal ball, but there was consensus Brexit was not the only factor which would shape the industry over the coming decades; it may simply be the spark which speeds up change.
Existing factors, such as the rate of technological advancement and how this would influence agriculture; how we enabled older farmers to retire with dignity to bring the next generation through; and how we source workers in an already squeezed labour market, were all the fore at the event, excellently organised by URAC members Ross McGowan and Alice Watkins.
Alongside these were questions on the public perception of farming and how this would mould which agricultural practices were deemed acceptable or not as time passes.
Mr Christensen’s challenge to the audience to think of which current practices, for example castrating piglets without anaesthetic, would still be seen as acceptable in 20 years and how they would plan for change, was a salient point.
Farming needs to be on the front in terms of communicating its high welfare standards and wider public goods, but the shifting societal sands of this nation means there will be many practices we have now which will simply be deemed archaic in a generation’s time.
To stay relevant with consumers and their beliefs the industry has to keep changing and adapting on a continuous basis.
Brexit might grab the headline, but it will not be the only defining influence on farming as we move forward.