According to a well known former Farmers Guardian journalist who spent more than 40 years with the title, one of the biggest changes in UK farming from the 1970s onwards was the rise of the environmental agenda and how it influenced policy.
Remembering how there was a smattering of voices warning of the ’green blob’ during NFU meetings back then, it appears that their prophecies were correct.
More than Brexit and Covid-19 combined, the wider issues of climate change, net zero and sustainability are making their presence felt in farm policy and retail circles and will start to fundamentally redefine the way many people farm in the years ahead. And that is without forgetting that such policies have caused huge change already.
You only have took at recent pledges by the likes of Morrisons to understand that sustainability and carbon accounting are going to become fundamental parts of farm life for those who want to access direct contracts with retailers. Dipping a toe into that stream of thinking will divide opinion among farmers, with some embracing the challenge and others not.
As one reader suggested in last week’s letters pages, the level of perceived bureaucracy in the Red Tractor audit was too much for them, especially as they ’just wanted to farm’. But if they think Red Tractor provides a lot of hoops to jump through, then the coming challenge of proving farming’s environmental credentials will provide a whole new layer of red tape.
There is hope, however, and the rising tide of technological solutions, often delivered via smart phone apps, provides an exciting opportunity to track the performance of livestock or crops in a real time setting like never before. In many respects the humble mobile phone, which is not so humble at all, will likely become the key to unlocking many boxes in the sustainability challenge.
But it will also create a system of winners and losers as those who want to go on a journey driven by sustainable credentials and technological capability access the premium contracts, while others are thrown into the open market. That notion of ’just wanting to farm’, often in isolation from outside factors, will become increasingly difficult to maintain.